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With ARVs beyond reach, rural folk resort to herbs
Tuesday 16 November 2004
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ZIMBABWE: With ARVs beyond reach, rural folk resort to herbs

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Rural Zimbabweans battle to cope without access to ARVs

BULAWAYO, 25 August (PLUSNEWS) - Moketsi Nleya, a subsistence farmer in rural Madlambuzi, western Zimbabwe, painfully retrieves a bunch of thin brown roots from under his pillow, which he breaks into tiny fragments and chews, followed by a cupful of an analgesic herbal concoction that also acts as a sedative.

Nleya, 55, is among a growing number of HIV/AIDS patients in rural Zimbabwe who have to resort to traditional medicine because they have no direct access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy.

"Ours is a delicate and desperate case. Some people tell us that our condition could improve only if we could get antiretroviral drugs. The pain is unbearable, but when you take some of these herbs you do get a decent sleep, at least for a night," Nleya said. His scrawny body showed the signs of fast-deteriorating health.

Some of Madlambuzi's residents said the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA), a body representing traditional healers and herbalists, encouraged them to seek herbal therapy while waiting for the government's announcement on rolling out ARVs in rural areas.

ZINATHA has called for the acceptance of traditional medicines at health institutions and is lobbying government to allow its members to work with doctors and nurses to tackle the AIDS pandemic.

Dr Gordon Chavhunduka, president of ZINATHA, told IRIN that in the fight against the virus, all medical practitioners should work together for the benefit of the patient.

"We have been lobbying the government for the past two decades to incorporate traditional healers' knowledge and practice into the country's health delivery system, without much success. It has always been the norm and custom among African communities to use traditional medicine in whatever circumstances, and indeed, people infected with HIV/AIDS are among those who use them," Chavhunduka said.

Official figures indicate that AIDS-related illnesses claim more than 2,500 lives every week. Faced with empty coffers, a fast-crumbling health delivery system, isolation from the international community and shortages of foreign currency to buy drugs, Zimbabwe is grappling with the epidemic that has reduced life expectancy to 35 years. The population of children orphaned by AIDS is estimated to be hovering at above one million.

Last month the Geneva-based Global Fund turned down Zimbabwe's request for US $218 million of assistance, the bulk of which was meant to support ARV rollout programmes in both rural and urban areas.

Estimates indicate that while almost 25 percent of Zimbabwe's 11 million population are HIV-positive, only 5,000 are on ARVs.

The government set aside about Zim $15 billion (US $2.6 million) for the purchase of ARVs at the beginning of the year, but critics said the amount was completely inadequate.

Because of the desperate situation unfolding in rural areas, some NGOs have stepped in with medical assistance: Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) intends rolling out ARVs to rural people in Matabeleland in the southwest of the country.

"At the moment we are setting up an HIV/AIDS project in rural Tsholotsho. Basically, our intention is to start running opportunistic infection clinics, together with the staff from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. When that has been done, we will then provide ARVs just to those in need," said MSF spokesperson, Monique Van de Kar.

ARVs would initially be available at the Tsholotsho hospital, with three other health centers in the Matabeleland North province - Sipepa, Mkhunzi and Pumula - following suit.

"AIDS has had a devastating effect on most parts of Africa and, in some instances, rural people have been the hardest hit. People in rural areas have difficulty traveling to urban centers for ARVs and this is the main reason why we have chosen this rural area," Van de Kar added.

MSF is already working with Mpilo Hospital in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo in Matabeleland North to administer ARVs to patients.

According to a government health specialist based in Matabeleland, the plight of people infected with the disease was further compounded by the shortage of simple suppressants that could play a major role in reducing some opportunistic infections.

"It is so painful to see people flocking to hospitals for treatment every day, only to be turned away because there are no drugs - [not even] simple painkillers ... The situation is so desperate," said Ostine Dube, a nurse at a government hospital in the province.


Recent ZIMBABWE Reports
Rural dwellers shun VCT centres,  20/Oct/04
Hair salons come to rescue of female condom,  14/Oct/04
Global Fund rejects appeal, denies political bias,  12/Oct/04
Women and children most vulnerable, UNICEF,  21/Sep/04
Innovative bush camps help AIDS orphans,  25/Aug/04
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services
Le Fonds mondial de lutte contre le SIDA, la tuberculose et le paludisme
Le Réseau Afrique 2000

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