23 June 2001
So what is HIV? It is a tiny virus that nibbles
away at the immune system, and when that is weakened enough, full-blown
AIDS sets in. As there is not much left of the immune system to
fight back, every opportunistic disease is free to move in and
most do. TB, ulcers, stomach disorders, appalling diarrhea, bedsores,
malnutrition and depression are rife. There is no ability to fight
back. There is no known cure and the virus mutates rapidly making
research for a cure more difficult.
It is mainly passed on by sexual contact so
that the condom or a limiting of sexual partners should be suitable
intervention against the spread of the disease. But somehow not
in Africa, where women have virtually no say in sexual activities
and men despise the condom and may have, literally, a hundred
different partners in a year. There is not much celibacy around
despite the awareness campaigns.
And the children who are left? Grandmothers,
with their own children dead, look after the grandchildren, but
many are old, and without means. Some of the children may have
HIV, all need to go to school, need food, clothes and care. Many
households are headed by teenagers. Some not headed at all with
children living by their wits.
This is not a one-off situation - it is an on
going, slow-motion nightmare without a visible end.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
22 July 2001
Spent some hours this week with two women who
are very involved in women's affairs and in the battle against
AIDS. NEITHER KNEW THAT TRANSMISSION OF AIDS from infected mothers
to unborn babes could be prevented by use of anti-retroviral
drugs (ARD'S). If THEY don't know, you can imagine the information
level at grassroots. Starting yesterday, they will be building
up the awareness in the women's clubs of which they are a leading
part. They were horrified that they didn't know and delighted
that they would be able to do something about it - they currently
advise pregnant women with AIDS that they must not breastfeed,
as this can infect those who escaped HIV at birth, but now they
would have this wonderful information to give. Besides the clubs,
they will be seeing the clinics, traditional birth helpers, government
health personnel - it may take months before the pressure of awareness
takes real effect, but this particular project has started on
its way. I think it is worth really doing something, even if it
was only one babe involved - but 30,000 in Zimbabwe alone!
We need some help to find out about the provision
of AIDS testing - and real availability of the ARD's, from whom,
at what cost, whether it is going to be readily available, how
it is provided etc - and is there any hope of a worldwide campaign
of which we in Zim could be part?
Someone asked numbers involved - roughly 90,000
pregnant women in Zimbabwe are HIV+ and one-third of their babes
will contract the virus from their mothers UNLESS transmission
is prevented. That means over thirty thousand babies a year born
with a death sentence of AIDS that could be prevented in Zimbabwe
alone. Why do only a third contract it? It seems that the baby
contracts the virus in the birth canal so a Caesar should do the
trick - but for 90,000 women in the outback?
So we are starting to create awareness in one
little corner of Zimbabwe and will then move on ----
* * * * * * * * * * * *
14 February 2002
It seemed so simple; two pills--a problem solved
and a newborn baby saved from a miserable death. Who wouldn't
feel a sense of excitement, when this simple intervention could
help some 30,000 yet unborn children a year, in this small African
country - some 10% of total births.
MTCT - Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV -
really does work. A simple pill given to an HIV mother in labor
and a pill to her newborn baby will prevent transmission of the
virus from an HIV+ mother to the baby. An anti-retroviral drug
- a pill that could spell life for otherwise condemned babes to
be born to HIV+ mothers.
But, explained various hardworking medical people
involved in research and people-to-people grass roots clinics,
it isn't as simple as that. It never is, is it?
It seems that the ARD's have to be administered
to mother and child by trained medical personnel and in controlled
conditions. This is a problem in a country where the medical service
"Why" - thinking of the 30,000 unborn
babies condemned to struggle for breath, as their tiny immune
systems collapse under attack of the virus and their little bodies
shrink to a skeleton.
"Because many women will not be tested
for HIV. What is the point they say, you can't do anything about
it, and you will die anyway, as there is no cure. "Of course
they don't want their baby to have it," explained one interested
and caring farm wife.
"But, the women have another problem as
well - many know that HIV can be transmitted through breastfeeding,
but if they don't breastfeed what can they give them? And they
have a very real stigma problem - if they don't breastfeed, people
suspect that they have HIV. So, they hide their fears of HIV,
hope for the best and fear the worst, and don't get tested. If
the baby is born HIV+, it will probably die before age five years."
Again, the thought of 30,000 babies dying each
year rose like a specter.
With no intervention, 90,000 HIV+ Zimbabwean
mothers per year will develop (or already have) full-blown AIDS,
and that will lead to a miserable death within a few years. And
their children will be added to another horrifying statistic -
the hundreds of thousands of AIDS orphans who will have no mother
to see them through, even to their teens... So whether the baby
is HIV+ or not, there are going to be 90,000 motherless children
from these births.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
3 September 2002
The problems of the MTCT remain the same - ignorance
and how to administer. Our hospitals here are falling apart and
doctors are either on strike or leaving for greener fields. Add
a famine and discriminatory passing of donor food, and some areas
are really having a problem.
Got desperate over the ARV problems and started
in on extending the life of the mothers with quality of life.
Out of this has developed the "Living Positively with AIDS"
program here - that you needn't die with HIV. With positive feeding
of vegetables that you can grow yourself, you can retain HIV+
status without moving to AIDS. Extends quality of life for many
years, enabling bringing up families. There is a possibility of
a very exciting program, which may (or may not!) come to fruition
within a couple of months - if it does it is a really interesting
holistic approach to AIDS etc...
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Bio: Stella Greenway
hates biographies as hers covers far too many years! She came
to Africa over fifty years ago: free-lance writer, author, journalist,
editor, publisher, prospector, ceramacist, farmer, and has worked
extensively with NGO's, mainly with empowerment of people, but
particularly women. "Currently involved with Living Positively
with AIDS (Not much alternative when you are surrounded by it!)"