Zimbabwe: Bringing Hope to the Forgotten
September 2, 2005
At the Salvation Army's Howard Hospital in central Zimbabwe, a country where HIV rates are about 25 percent and there is no money for antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), death is a virtual certainty for AIDS patients. Indeed, a sign outside the hospital advertises "coffins for sale." But for HIV-positive pregnant women here, 90 kilometers north of Harare, there is some hope they can prevent transmitting the virus to their babies.
For three weeks in August, Toronto Dr. Andrew Simor visited the hospital's program to help prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT). A $280,000 Canadian ($235,734 US) Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) grant helped the hospital build a laboratory and provide ARVs for the MTCT program.
"Women in particular don't want to know their diagnosis because their partners blame them and beat them," said Simor, who first learned about Howard Hospital in 1998 from Paul Thistle, the facility's lone physician. "They, least of all, can afford to deal with HIV/AIDS."
Visiting the hospital approximately every year since 1998, Simor has seen locals growing thinner and sicker and more depressed, and he blames the "incompetent" and "corrupt" reform policies of President Robert Mugabe. UN and aid workers say Mugabe's policy redistributing white farmers' land to black workers has caused food shortages and human rights abuses. Once the five-year CIDA grant ends, Simor said he is not likely to get another because aiding the dictatorship is politically unpopular.
The hospital has also recently enrolled the first 100 non-pregnant patients in a study that offers them ARVs. "That's a drop in the bucket when you look at the whole country," said Simor. "But it's a start."
08.29.2005; Karen Palmer
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.