Getting ARVs for those living with HIV/AIDS

Posted by Carrie on Friday, March 31st, 2006
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Today our first appointment/interview was with Linda-Gail Bekker - a South African doctor who works in a clinic under the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. This clinic is Noordhoek, a suburb of Cape Town- about 10-15 miles from Haut Bay (where we stay). The clinic is actually in the black township of Masiphumelele - a different location, but the same conditions as Khayelitsha. We talked to Dr. Bekker about getting ARVs for those living with HIV/AIDS - she said that now, with a National roll out system- getting ARVs isn’t really a huge problem any more. South Africa is getting funding from Pepfar, a fund created by the Bush Administration specifically for AIDS in Africa, the South African government and other grants. Pharmaceudical companies have begun to lower the costs of their drugs - but not far enough. In addition, and I think I’ve said this before- in South Africa, there are only two treatment regiments available, while in places such as the U.S. there are more. Dr. Bekker said one of the biggest problems is distributing the drugs to patients. Right now the pharmacist must actually go to each clinic to fill prescriptions- this is a problem because South Africa does not have nearly enough pharmacists. Because of this there are clinics that can go weeks without drugs to give to the patients. Studies are quite clear that taking HIV/AIDS medicine at the same time every single day can block the disease from getting worse- without regular treatment, there is great risk. They are hoping to create some sort of system in which a pharmacist can be in a central location - using a computer system to track the drugs as they go out and as they are picked up by patients- it hasn’t happened yet. Dr. Bekker also talked about researching the difference, if any, between doctors treating patients vs nurses treating patients- this is a big deal because most clinics are run by nurse practitioners. She works in a place where there are both. It had a wonderful time talking to Dr. Bekker - she is incredibly passionate about her work- it is criminal to allow so many in South Africa to die when they don’t need to. Dr. Bekker had really positive things to say about Pepfar, but says the work is not done and will not be finished - there are many that will die of AIDS today! Dr. Bekker is incredibly busy, so our interview was short - but she gave us so much information. She also helped us get footage of the clinic itself.

Next it was on to another TAC office- this one was near Khayelitsh. Here we talked to Dennis- he is the Human Resources Administrator. Dennis is 34 years old and is also HIV positive. Dennis was very willing to talk to us about his life and work with TAC. Dennis told us how afraid and reluctant to tell anyone about being HIV positive- but finally confided in a friend who helped him find out about TAC- again- Treatment Action Campaign. Overtime Dennis overcame the stigma of HIV and began to volunteer with TAC- he also did a lot of his own reading to find out about the science of HIV and other HIV related issues. Today, Dennis is very involved in TAC. He gave us his opinion about U.S. pharmaceutical companies and said that people/specifically medical companies. These companies have not done enough - they need to go further and put human life above profit- that it is immoral to let people die - life above profit!

We stopped for lunch at the “Mohican Spur” - complete with Native American totem poles, “cowhide leather” seats, Native American “statues” and dream catchers- what a place- don’t think you’d ever see such a place in America - at least I hope not! It was pretty wild.

We then picked up Themba- the director of Ikhwezi- whom we’d met with earlier in the week. We quickly recapped our interview with Themba and Sam- and then we were able to watch the student group warm up for their rehearsal. It was amazing - there were about 15 students - it was a coed group ranging in ages from 15-35 - they sang and danced forever! Their music was a call and response - one young girl lead the singing- her voice was unreal! They sang in Xhosa, so we did not understand the words/message- but it was beautiful and full of energy. They danced and danced and would have danced forever- had we not been there to start an interview with the group. We all sat down on the floor in a semi circle and I asked each member to introduce themselves and tell us why they joined the group. I’ve never been in a group of drama students- it was hilarious - so fun! They all have a passion for drama and were inspired by another to join the group. One girl sang a Whitney Houston song to introduce herself and another young man recited a poem. It was all very cool!
Next began the informal, group interview- it didn’t take long for us to realize we weren’t really in control of the discussion - I asked one basic question- What do you think about America? Wow- what a discussion- the anger in the room was clear and expressed with passion. I believe during the discussion America came to represent the “Western World” - there was not a lot of love for America. We are greedy- we’ve stopped out the African culture - we force our own culture on Africans. But there were also voices that said – no - our culture might be here, but we do not force Africans to take it as their own. Others said it was Americans that brought a system of education that they have grown to like – again - America came to symbolize the western world - some made a distinction between our government and American citizens. It was a very heated argument and rightly so - as one man reminded us - it was not long ago that the system of Aparthied ended - they were/are an oppressed group. But was loud and clear to me was their pride- pride in being African- specifically South African. There was talk of American colonization in Africa- although American did not colonize Africa. We did participate in the Slave Trade- to the detriment of the continent and those taken to the Americas. There was real anger in the room -and at times- I must admit I felt it was aimed directly at me - although I knew that was not the actually case. I also had trouble, as an Africa America, a black America- being grouped with the western world that colonized Africa-my ancestors were from Africa- taken as slaves - at times it was hard to hear that I am part of the “bad” America- the “bad” western world. I asked those in the room what they might say to a Black America - who also has roots in Africa, and they seemed to make a distinction between Black Americans and the “western colonizers” - although I’m not totally sure - it was the last questions and things were breaking up as we tried to listen to answers.

Our meeting ended with three members of the group giving us a sample of their current performance - a performance aimed and educating people about TB - it was awesome - this is an incredibly talented group!

What a night- we didn’t return home until 9pm!

Until tomorrow.


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