On Friday, 27 May, 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was invited to participate in the belated World AIDS Day commemorations, which occurred in the distant village of Mabee, in Chipinge on the border with Mozambique.
In the weeks that proceeded the date, local authorities sought active support from non-governmental organisations that work in the district. At times like these, we try to help as much as we can. MSF was responsible for providing fuel so we could transport all the necessary material to the event.
As a logistician, I tried to coordinate with local authorities the issue of supply, which we achieved successfully by using fuel drums. At the same time, our medical staff began preparations to conduct diagnostic and HIV awareness activities in Mabee. After a few moments of discussion, we concluded that the best would be to develop this kind of action in tents. We agreed we would structure two tents in Mabee, the first for diagnosis and the second for awareness.
While the medical activity is MSF's soul, I often think of logistics as its body. The actions of our medical teams are the essence of the organisation, but the logistics team provides all the necessary support. It was no different in Mabee. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the office as we prepared for the event, while we organised movements and were preparing the material. The journey was long and tiring, as usually happens with MSF. Nevertheless, these are propitious moments for reflection. In the contexts in which we work, some intellectual isolation is sometimes necessary.
On the day of the commemorations, Mabee was vibrant. The entire local community was mobilized. Approximately 2,000 people attended the commemorations. We put up our two tents, one for HIV testing and another one for information dissemination. The authorities made their speeches, and students from the local school prepared beautiful presentations, one directed to NGOs that participated. "Tinotenda", "Thank you" in Shona, was repeated several times during the song.
The medical team provided free HIV testing and counselling. Locals formed a long line around the MSF tent in order to get tested. In Zimbabwe, we use a HIV test that requires only a drop of blood. The results were ready in about 15 minutes. Our team was trying its best to fill the records, give out the results and meet those who were interested. For security reasons, we cannot move at night, so we had to leave at sunset after dismantling the tents and storing the equipment.
Among the beneficiaries, there were multiple reactions from smiles, disappointments, neutral expressions and confusion. What can you feel when your life changes in 15 minutes? As humanitarian workers, our duty was completed, at least at that time. We forwarded the results to the local clinic for HIV-positive patients so that they could start their treatment. One afternoon, our mobile clinic performed about 300 HIV tests.
On the way back, more reflections came along. What we did in Mabee may not have been large in scale, but it meant a lot. We changed the fate of 300 individuals. For those tested negative, we provided information, comfort and guidance to continue prevention. For those who tested positive, we referred them for treatment and this marked the beginning of a completely different life. There it was, the satisfaction of sacrificing so much to be with MSF: the actions we organized there can add decades in the life expectancy of the people in Mabee. Decades to see the family grow; play with their children; see the birth of grandchildren, live in the community. At that moment, tired and exhilarated by the sweltering day, that was all that was happening in my thoughts. We change lives. And when we change someone, we change the world.