I think most of you know that my work in Congo involves managing a project aimed at reducing maternal and newborn mortality. Since I began the job last June, I have been trying to find out why there are no ARVs available for people living with HIV in some of the areas the project is operating.
If taken correctly, ARVs can suppress the HIV virus and stop its progression. Furthermore, along with other interventions, such as exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, and safe childbirth practices, if a mother takes correct ARV treatment, the chances of transmission of HIV from mother to child be can reduced from 45% to 5%. The impact of taking the correct treatment of ARVs is huge. Life-changing – quite literally.
Yet in some of the areas our project is operating, ARVs are not available to those that need them. This is despite the Global Fund committing to provide them (the Global Fund is an international finance organisation that attracts and disperses resources to prevent and treat HIV and AIDs around the world)
So my burden the past few months has been going round in circles between various different actors, including the Ministry of Health, health clinics, other NGOs and the NGO that Global Fund has delegated to distribute the ARVs, to find out why, despite being promised, they are not reaching those living with HIV.
It’s been a highly frustrating task. Noone has given a plausible reason for the failure in provision. Everyone I’ve met with has given a different story, blaming another actor. Noone takes responsibility.
Yesterday, however, I made a small breakthrough. Yesterday I learnt that in one of the areas we are operating, the reason why ARVs are not reaching the clinic where they can be dispensed to those in need is because the staff at the health clinic do not know how to request the drugs from the health zone. Consequently drugs have been sat in a room at the Health Zone for so long that they have expired.
Yup. Expired. Because clinic staff don’t know how to request for them.
Meanwhile… how many are dying from AIDs? How many babies have contracted HIV unnecessarily?
Sometimes, I find it very hard to have hope for Congo. Yes, maybe we can make a tiny difference in this tiny location – but have you seen how huge this country is?! Do you know how much need there is?!
Now we have finally found the reason for the lack of ARVs in this area, maybe we can see how we can get funding to provide the basic training for the staff at the health clinic so they can be empowered to request for the drugs from the health zone.
A drop in a very vast ocean. The cynical me says a drop that will probably be abused somewhere along the line. ‘Yet what is the ocean by a multitude of drops?’ (Cloud Atlas).