why there is no doctor: harsh realities in zonkizizwe (part 2) (11)


(photo: Zonke Testing Day banner on the back of a van used to transport people to the clinics)

While working in Zonke, a fact that shocked me was that an HIV-positive person can only access ARV treatment [for free, otherwise it is very expensive] if their CD4 count is below 200. This is official South African government policy and numerous studies have shown that accessing treatment earlier has greater long-term health benefits as ARVs are meant to be taken life-long. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2008 outlined four clinical stages of HIV progression. The WHO recommends that when a patient hits stage three with a CD4 count below 350, life-long ARV treatment should be started. Starting patients earlier negates complications later. However, in South Africa once the CD4 count goes above 200 again, treatment is stopped, which allows for greater complications and the need for new strains of ARVs. This year a push to increase the CD4 count threshold for treatment was rejected by the National Health Council on the grounds of affordability (85).

Prof Robin Wood, director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town, is among the clinicians who have been calling for the South African government to raise the standard of treatment set out in its guidelines. However, he pointed out that better guidelines would be meaningless without improving the quality of care and access to services (86).

Professor Wood brings everything back to perspective. Anyone can call for greater access and more treatment, but if there is no distribution system for health services and care then what is the point. It would be like having a big supply of pizzas and no delivery drivers. This is the problem in many former “homelands,” townships, and informal settlements. There are inadequate or non-existent delivery systems for health services and treatment and so in areas where the HIV/AIDS crisis is most critical, there is no system to address the problem.

Today was the 2nd half of Prevention in the HIV/AIDS course. The kids are incredibly receptive with questions, comments, and the desire to learn more. We will be covering Treatment and resources this Friday. Celumusa did a great job of translating and really getting the course lessons through to the kids. Later in the evening she talked with us – her passion and drive to get people tested and aware and knowledgeable is amazing and so admirable with all she has been through. She is so excited about a Zonke testing day, the HIV/AIDS class, working with the staff and community to make more people talk and not be afraid to talk. Today she told the kids that she was HIV positive and they all did not believe her at all – they asked her to cross her heart that she was not lying. I could tell from the first class that the kids were learning much more than they had before beyond what HIV and AIDS stands for (87).

Much of the work at the center and the work that needs to happen in Zonke is HIV testing. Once tested you can learn how to take care of yourself, your children, and your community. When I asked Celumusa why people don’t test she said that people don’t know that they can live with HIV. So many people are involved in risky behaviors, she said, they have family members die from HIV/AIDS, but don’t test themselves. She also noted that pregnant mothers are tested and are given tablets, but not told their status. Testing is critical and we began working on this by planning a Zonke Testing Day for July 31st.

As I began organizing for the Testing Day, I came into contact with more of the health services available in Zonke. There are a number of traditional doctors and surgeries in Zonke. I can only imagine that this is because there is such a lack of other health services. Celumusa and others have bad perceptions of traditional medicine: evil, it kills people, and the traditional healers are crazy people. I was still having no luck finding any doctors, until I finally caught a traditional doctor in his office. He ran a clinic that was more Western than others and was supposedly trained by the government in traditional healing, but his office was empty every time I visited – no patients (88). Why are there no doctors?

Across the road from his office was a private clinic run by a group of Indian doctors. I also had a difficult time finding them, as did many Zonke residents. I was able to visit the private clinic only when Celumusa had to schedule an appointment for her baby. The private clinic had become her last option that she was sure to see a doctor. This says a lot for the health care system in Zonke (and other overcrowded settlements and townships left over from apartheid era) that the poor will pay to see a private doctor because the government health services are unreliable. Celumusa said they always give injections at the private clinic. Yet again I wonder about the quality of care. The clinics give painkiller tablets and the private clinics give injections (antibiotics?). If care is inadequate and access to ARV medication is beyond the ability of most, then the extended scenes of cemeteries become less shocking.

In the past 2 weeks, 3 people have passed because of HIV and AIDS that we have been directly informed of because the Buthelezi family has been close to the deceased – a father, an aunt, and a neighbor. Living in an HIV positive community is so different when you can fully understand the impact of just one life (89).

It was as if I had seen the walking dead. The prospect of death is so intertwined with life in Zonkizizwe that the author who wrote that South Africans attend more funerals than weddings was supported by my experiences this summer. The hardest hitting example was with the passing of the father of one of the families at the center. Three of the children attended the center. The oldest was 17 years old and was taking care of her frail father as he withered away, making sure her younger brother and sister were going to school, and attending school herself. This small family had already lost their mother to HIV/AIDS. The burden of disease was not met by the health care system or any the government response. The burden of disease rests completely on those who are affected and they do not have the resources to help themselves.

A critical aspect of combating the effects of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is education. As one of my goals over summer I developed an HIV/AIDS curriculum, based off of the Peace Corps Lifeskills curriculum, that the youth could share with the friends and families as peer educators. The spreading of knowledge is a powerful first step in giving people the resources they need to prevent HIV/AIDS. It is especially important when there exists no other means to access this information. The Zonkizizwe schools are under-funded and teachers are under-trained. This translates to the lack of a teacher for the Lifeskills curriculum and therefore the lack of knowledge on sexual health and HIV/AIDS. VVOCF is beginning to fulfill a service where the government is horribly failing.

All of our kids were tested, plus about 20 others. In all over 60 people tested. […] The community and guardian support was incredible. There were a few positives that we expected from already young mothers […] and unexpected bad news surprise […] Many good surprises came out of the day as we learned of many negative cases that were expected to confirm our worst nightmares (90).

Year – Number of HIV Tests (*from clinic 2)
2006 – 128
2007 – 246
2008 – 412

The success of solutions driven by citizens was best evidenced by the culmination of the HIV/AIDS peer education courses, health classes, and the death of a father in an area wide testing day. I had taken the lead in organizing the testing day with the clinics, MSU study abroad volunteers, and various local organizations. Because of the stigma attached and sensitivity of the issue I was a bit nervous when the day came. July 31st 2008, the first Zonke Testing Day was a day of success fueled by the youth at the center. And while the numbers of people testing have made steady increases, the reality remains that the majority of those who need treatment after testing will not have access. Many in the generation just older than these youth mocked or scoffed at the testing day, but our kids were set on it.

We really are building a new generation of freedom fighters – not afraid of stigma, talking about sex, ready to be tested, and not about to turn a blind to HIV/AIDS. These young people stood today with a powerful support base of each other evidenced by yesterday’s action and the larger community is taking notice. The youth continue to give me hope and pride in being allowed to take part in such a community action (91).

The realities of Zonkizizwe paint a vivid picture of the effects of apartheid on health care for the majority of the South African population. The health system operating in Zonke is the ground zero of the failures of post-apartheid government policy to address the far-reaching impact of HIV/AIDS.

Notes:
85. “South Africa: Funding shortfall threatens treatment programme.” IRIN/PlusNews. 2 April 2009. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=83762
86. Ibid.
87. Hill, Alex B. Journal Entry. 30 June 2008.
88. Ibid, 17 July 2008.
89. Ibid, 6 June 2008.
90. Ibid, 31 July 2008.
91. Ibid.

Coming next: Conclusion

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snapshot of health in ghana

We are now a week into our second course of out study abroad program, studying the disparities of the Ghanaian healthcare system. These disparitites range from Ghana to the US, urban to rural, and ever North to South. We have seen and learned about a number of different healthcare situations in Ghana. Since my interest is in access to basic healthcare I have been watching health clinics as we traveled around for the first 4 weeks and I have been trying to understand how the healthcare system worked, now all that I have observed is making more sense.

The Statistics
– one third of the 138 districts have no hospital
– high maternal mortality rate (hemorrage & infection)
– beyond the capital the road system is poor
– 40% of population is covered by the national insurance
– life expectancy is 57 (this has fallen with the emergence of HIV/AIDS)
– healthcare is geographically, financially, and culturally inaccessable

The key problem in Ghana is figuring out where the divide should be joined between traditional and western medicine. What is more interesting is the integration of traditional medicine into the very western Ghanaian health system. I noticed from my pre-healthcare course observations that there is a large number of missionary clinics, government hospitals, pharmacies, and other private health service centers in the Accra area. As we traveled from Cape Coast, Volta Region, and Kumasi I noticed that there was a lesser degree of healthcare services advertised or offered. Why was there such a change from the urban to rural was my first question. Even more so why was there such a disparity between the other regions and the Volta Region of Ewe people?

7 June 2007

Our first visit of the health systems in Ghana was to a health clinic and research center that was solely focused on using traditional medicines and herbs for cures of ailments. It was very interesting to observe the research being conducted and see that they were also running a full health clinic with their findings. The center claimed to have WHO (World Health Organization) funding, but I am not sure if that is true anymore. While there we met some students from the US who were interning at the center for the summer. This is a direct linkage between the traditional and western methods of medicine. This also brings up the issue of intellectual property rights – do the communities that the center learns from benefit from its revenue? Sure the health clinic, but otherwise? This is a reason that the center’s director gave for not partnering with large pharmaceutical companies – to not lose IP rights.


From there we went to the Mampong district outside of Accra to view the structure of the health systems and network of regional health services. We first visited the regional administration offices and talked with the head nurses. They gave us a very well run and organizaed outlook on healthcare in Ghana. At the offices there was also a counseling and testing clinic for HIV/AIDS and a peer educator class taking place. Here we learned that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) provided food rations for new mothers and mothers with malnourished children. I asked if this was true at all regional districts. The answer was yes, but I wonder if all the regions are as well established as Mampong. We then went to visit the regional hospital. It was a large, modern building, not very dissimilar from what you would find in America or Europe. But, there were obvious differences in the developed nature of the hospital. It was a nice hospital, but not one that I would want to stay in. We were given a tour of the entire premises and had a near-death experience in the elevator. Twenty plus people in an old hospital elevator in Ghana makes for exciting times. The elevator descended with the help of our weight and gravity – there was a loud bang as we hit the safety catch – there were still three floors to fall. The head nurse was not very keen on what to do next, but eventually we all climbed out from the gap left between the two floors to the wondering faces of what seemed like the entire hospital staff. Its the stairs from now on.
There seems to be a very good system of healthcare in the relatively developed areas of Ghana, but as for the villages I cannot say. It seems that we have visited mostly well put together centers and clinics. This made me think of the situation in Uganda, where it is the private and mission clinics that have all the supplies and the government run centers have absolutely nothing – very different.

At the Mampong regional administrative offices we learned that in many villages where there is no clinic or government hospital there is a nurse that lives in the community and is charged with the health of that community. However, I cannot speak to the degree of training or equipment that these community nurses have. This speaks to the obvious disparity between the urban and rural environments. There is not as much access to healthcare in the rural areas and so I wonder how much access there is in much of the rural North of Ghana? How many people do not have access?

11-13 June 2007
Some of the issues brought up in our classroom lectures about the health systems in Ghana relate to money. Not everything is covered and so some people cannot pay for access to services. There is bribery in medicine, we have not experienced this, but I do not doubt it. The basic insurance policy in Ghana costs about 72,000 cedis a year, this may not seem like a lot to ‘developed’ countries, but to a Ghanaian this could mean a great deal. In its health development, Ghana is still working on eradicating polio and guinea worm – even in metropolitian areas. Sanitation is a big problem. “The world is my toilet,” has become a joking phrase among the males in our group. If you are a male you can urinate just about anywhere, except where it says, “do not urinate here!” However, you still see people urinate by those signs. Sewage drains have stangant water and often do not drain anywhere. Trash is not collected and is often burned by the roadside. This reminded of Uganda where trash is just thrown out the window. In Kampala you cannot get away from the smell of burning trash, and there are not even drainage ditches.

Another issue brought up was that of ‘assembly line medicine.’ In Ghana there is such a high number of out patients (40% due to malaria) that the health workers often diagnos based on perception, not based on evidence. The issue of traditional and modern medicine is also a hotly contested topic. The health worker crisis in Africa seems to have been circumvented slightly in Ghana. Ghana has included traditional birth attendants in their health system and has just set up a new council for traditonal medical healers to have their say. The most fatal health issue in Ghana now is maternal motrality. Why? Good question, Ghana is ery developed in its understanding of health practices and so it makes no sense whatsoever that a mother should die due to complications of childbirth.

We next traveled to Ashesi University, a private, liberal arts university in Ghana (the most liberal in all of Africa, supposedly). Here we met a Fulbright fellow and a former fellow who is a profesor at Eastern Michigan University. Here we talked about the ‘brain drain’ and new ideas for Ghana’s health system. Currently a physician is in charge of managing the health center, but this means that often the physician has no idea how to manage and makes the staff unhappy and then does not practice medicine because he or she is too busy managing the center. The professor from EMU was working on publishing a study to help change this and introduce education for health managers. The incentives for staying in the country to work are minimal, but inticing. If you work in the Ministry of Health (MOH), then you can be sponsored to increase education and degree. The professor also talked of how Africa, “gets under your skin, you keep coming back.” It really made sense to me and I really don’t want to leave.

13 June 2007

Today we visited the Korle Bu hospital, the best government hospital in all of Ghana. We were not able to tour the main clinic becuase we arrived late, but we did get a quick tour of the Department of Child Health. It was a very nice center, as you can tell from the pictures. This was again an amazing compund that constituted a village in itself. It was obvious that this center must receive a large amount of the government funding for health. There were a number of different center, housing for doctors and nurses, a bank, pharmacy, and a teaching hospital for the University of Ghana. Hopefully we can return later and get a tour of the main clinic to see how things are run there.

The recommended health center for the MSU program students, if they are to fall ill on the trip is Nyaho Clinic. It is a private center tucked away in a random area of Accra. We have had a few students go there, but I have not seen for myself the interior. I have heard it is very nice and Ghanaians in the health profession know it as a nice and expensive clinic.

So far most of the health systems we have seen are very well established and well run and seem to be in great condition. We have not seen the failings of the Ghanaian health systems and the picture for now seems very rosy. I have seen the many mission, private, and government hospitals and clinics in the fairly ‘developed’ regions of Ghana. What I have not seen is the lack of healthcare like I saw so vividly in Uganda. The EMU professor at Ashesi University told us stories of his experiences with health in Ghana. He told stories of overrun rural clinics, a family’s inability to pay for lifesaving medication, the long distances traveled wo receive attention when it is too late, the sheer numbers of people who just do not have access to basic healthcare. This is where I feel we should be, this is where it would make sense to me, this is where we can make a difference. We will now be leaving for the village of Otibini near Danfa to do a community health assessment. I think here is where we will get to feel the village life and true health crisis.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

brand of global health: gates

The new major player on the global health scene is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but is it possible for two people to become a brand of global health? Is the Gates Foundation really providing aid and investment in the best possible way with their power and influence as a global health ‘brand?’

The Gates Foundation has already become one of the top players in global public health. And with last year’s gift from Warren Buffet, the Foundation is set to double its giving this year. Last year the Gates’ invested $1.36 billion in many different areas of public health, from providing childhood immunizations to agricultural research in developing countries. One of the major priorities is HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, with over $350 million given in grants.

In June of 2006, on NPR’s All Things Considered, Thomas Quinn, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, and Gerald Keusch, Associate Dean for Global Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, answer questions about the practices and abilities of the Gates Foundation. They answer questions such as the Foundation’s role with the WHO and UNAIDS, its ability to make a difference, fears of responsibility and being a private foundation, and what the Foundation can do with its billions. I highly suggest checking out the link.

The two simple core values of the foundation’s work are one, that all lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value, and two, to whom much is given, much is expected. Great values, with which great hope rests upon. Some people do not have as much hope in the Foundation as much of their practices and investment policies are out of date. I will not attempt to try and voice all of the concerns (check out the entry from‘My social life’ on 16 January 2007 Open Letter to the Gates Foundation). Has the Foundation inherited too many of the corporate practices from Mr. Gates to run effectively? Is the Foundation too big to be accountable to the people?

the quick facts


HIV/AIDS – Part II:

HIV/AIDS in Africa:
– 25.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa
– sub-Saharan Africa has only 10% of the world’s population, yet has over 60% of new infections
– 77% of new infections in women
– Out of the 15 million AIDS orphans in the world, 95% of them are living in Africa
– Only one in ten Africans who currently needs antiretroviral treatment for HIV is receiving it


Since its discovery 25 years ago in 1981 HIV/AIDS has:
– Claimed the lives of over 25 million people
– Roughly 40 million people infected and living with HIV/AIDS
– 14,000 new infections each day
– 5 million new infections each year (estimated)
– 64% of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa
– There were 13 million AIDS orphans living in sub-Saharan (South & South East Asia are second worst affected with 15%)
– AIDS accounts for the deaths of 500,000 children in Africa
– Two-thirds of HIV/AIDS infections in Asia occur in India


According to the latest figures published in the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update:
– 39.5 million people are living with HIV (estimated)
– 4.3 million new infections in 2006
– 2.8 million (65%) new infections occurring in sub-Saharan Africa
– Increases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia rates have risen by more than 50% since 2004
– In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
– Of the 2.9 million deaths, 2.1 million of thiose occurred in sub-Saharan Africa