Six weeks on the ground

23 December 2009

Six weeks on the ground. Yet, it feels like 3 months. The new impressions come in such abundance; work at the clinic, contact with the patients, life at the expat-volunteer-house. Everything is new. Still, it's a way of life in which people have learned to adapt quickly; and so did I. Work already feels like known territory and my colleagues - so kind to welcome me so warmly - feel like long-time acquaintances.

I made new friends - when working & living together it is easy to quickly connect - but have also already had to say good bye again to some ... things move so quickly ... before I know it the year will have past.

I will work hard to make sure that by the end of it I will feel that I was able to make my little contribution towards a better world by helping the project here improve and grow.

And what a project it is! 4,500 patients, of whom nearly 500 children, being treated for HIV and thousands more under normal basic health care.

In 2010 we plan to take in 300 new patients every month; by December next year we expect to have close to 15,000 patients under active care,
of whom over 8,000 will be treated for HIV. 8,000 people who, without MSF, may not even have lived anymore.

The clinic is located in Epworth, a community of 500,000 at the outskirts of Harare. Poverty levels are soaring: Clean drinking water is not available. Food supplies are scarce. On top of all this, HIV infection rates are estimated to be over 20%. Local health infrastructure is virtually non-existent. People struggle to survive. It is confronting to walk around through the community and to see so many sick. This other day I was playing with a group of children; all clearly suffering from malnutrition and general poor health. I felt happy we are here to alleviate the pain somewhat, but also sad that we are not able to help all. These children, and their parents, they deserve so much better.

The Zimbabwean reality is a hard one to live: in the community of Epworth alone 60,000 people are estimated to be in need of HIV treatment. Of these we are able to help not even 10%. The overall objective of the MSF program is for us to phase out and for the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health to take over. And of course for the Zimbabwean health authorities to be able to provide care to all who are in need of it. However, attaining this objective remains a distant dream for now: In the current situation funding is so limited that the health budget available per Zimbabwean for the whole of 2010 would hardly be sufficient to cover HIV treatment for a single day.

But despite the suffering we have many happy moments here as well - we sing and dance and celebrate the life we have. I will write about these moments in my future blogs... Till then! And..happy holidays to all!