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ANGOLA: Doctors discriminate against HIV positive people

Photo: IRIN
The Esperança hospital specialises in treating people living with HIV/AIDS
Luanda, 23 March 2006 (PlusNews) - HIV-positive people in Angola face stigma and discrimination not only from their relatives, friends or neighbours, but also from health professionals who do not know enough about HIV/AIDS.

Felisberta Massango, an activist with the AIDS NGO, Acção Humana, recently took her friend, who was already in the terminal stage of AIDS, to a public hospital in the capital, Luanda.

Her friend needed to be hospitalised, but the doctor on duty would not admit her and instead referred her to the Esperança hospital, which specialises in treating people living with HIV/AIDS but is an outpatient facility operating only during the day.

After much persuading, Massango's friend was eventually admitted. "Reluctantly he [the doctor] agreed to give her a bed, but a few hours later he discharged her ... even though she was becoming weaker and weaker. After going to several hospitals we got a bed at the Divina Providência Hospital, but she had become tired of being rejected and two days later she died," said Massango, who publicly declared her HIV-positive status in 2003, becoming the third person in Angola to do so.

According to the clinical director of Esperança hospital, Marilia Afonso, this was not an isolated incident. "Unfortunately, we still have some colleagues who maybe have not understood quite well Hospital Esperança's role, and what AIDS is," she told PlusNews.

A diabetic person who contracts malaria or pneumonia does not have to look for a diabetes specialist, he can consult a general practitioner, she pointed out. "A patient with AIDS should be seen in the health centres, just like any other patient who comes for a consultation."

Pombal Maria, the general secretary of Acção Humana, attributed the problem to healthcare workers' lack of information on dealing with AIDS patients.

HIV-positive people were also marginalised, and not involved in the administration of antiretroviral medication, empowerment courses or forums and workshops.

"When they come it is just to deliver a speech, and away they go," said Maria.

Overburdened doctors sometimes think HIV positive people go to hospital only to die there. "Hospitals either do not have space, or just reject a patient with AIDS," said Carolina Pinto, a well known HIV-positive activist.

"When NGOs complain about this, hospitals will take the patient for one night, only to discharge him/her on the following day," she said, recalling an instance when she went to a public hospital for a blood test while she was pregnant, and heard one of the nurses shouting to the doctor: "Take care, that one is HIV positive, I saw her on TV ... do not say I did not warn you!"

Although Pinto was shocked, she could also see the humour in it, "I was going to tell the doctor myself, anyway."

Another problem causing the negative attitude of healthcare workers is the rivalry within the health system because the staff of Esperança hospital are generally better paid than those at other health facilities.

Esperança was inaugurated by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos two years ago as part of the National Institute to Fight AIDS, and caters to about 5,000 patients from across the country. Only five of Angola's 18 provinces have the capacity to administer antiretrovirals, but dos Santos recently said all provinces should have antiretroviral centres by September.

The country's average HIV prevalence rate is estimated at 4.3 percent.

Pinto called for greater efforts to "reduce ignorance and fear on the part of health technicians through training, and clarify the function of Esperança hospital".

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

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

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