Malawi has yet to find a way of distributing free anti-retroviral drugs to those infected with HIV/AIDS. While the country is providing free drugs to some infected citizens, many more are unable to access the necessary drugs. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Eldson Chagara spoke with Malawians about the health care situation.
Teleza Mbewe is a six-year--old orphan; she is living with HIV/aids. Weakness prevents her from attending primary school. She lost her mother two years ago to HIV/AIDS, while her father died long before of an unspecified illness. Teleza now lives with her grandmother in a remote village in the Mwanza district. Teleza’s grandmother Aginesi is in her sixties and looks weak; she is also infected with HIV/AIDS is not yet on ARV treatment.
She says Teleza is living with HIV/Aids and is already on a monthly dose of anti-retroviral drugs. The main worry is accessibility. There are no drugs at the health centre, which is located at a distance of over six kilometers from the village. She has been receiving her therapy for six months now, but the likelihood for continuity is uncertain.
Travelling to the health center is one thing and accessing the drug is another. Drugs are not easily available at the health centre and all recipients are referred to the main hospital in Blantyre some 110 kilometers away. This has made more people on ARV fail to travel and receive their monthly dose. An official from World Vision, Duncan Dula, says there are many people who are unable to receive their monthly ARV treatment because they cannot travel long distances.
“The terrain of this area very steep and it is very difficult from the community that are living in the peripheral areas. For them to access these health centers, it is a challenge because of the distance and the terrain.”
Some HIV sufferers turn to alternative medications that have not been proven as scientifically beneficial. Some people are using a concoction called African potato; it is a mixture of garlic, Nimu tree, and aloe vera. Desperate people are taking desperate measures in an attempt to survive.
Professor John Chisi of College of Medicine, a constituent College of the University of Malawi, says the time has come for Malawi to give ARV’s to all recipients the way aspirin is administered to patients. He says the Malawi government should make ARV drugs available in all health centers so that more people have access to them.
“I know people who are supposed to start ARV’s today. They cannot start because of this and that and then six months later they cannot still start and hereafter they are dying. I think that is not right, and I think that is to do with human resources themselves. If you have got these medicines, which are here for free, there is no reason why people should not have them. If you give them rightly, there is no need to worry about a specialist this and that…I don’t know.”
The Malawi government through the Ministry of Health is responsible for administering ARV drugs. However, some quarters have suggested that non-governmental organizations and the private sector help in the disbursement of the ARV’s.
Malawi has over 1-million people living with HIV/AIDS and most of them are the youths who represent over half the population of 12 million Malawians.
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