Patients on ART still face discrimination

IT IS not a death sentence for one to be HIV positive but for Daniel Phiri (not real name) of Kafue district, his employer has allegedly been jeopardising his health condition by refusing him to get his HIV drugs at Nangongwe Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) Centre in Kafue District.
The story of Phiri is similar to many other workers in the district and this has angered some concerned citizens who say the behaviour by some employers is inhuman.
According to Nangongwe Health Centre sister-in-charge, Monde Liswaniso, some employers, especially foreigners, are taking advantage of the high unemployment levels by allegedly refusing their workers permission to access ART.
Ms liswaniso said it is saddening that employers are not giving priority to their workers’ health.
She said workers are also not allowed to do follow-ups on their ART.
“The major culprits on the matter are foreign employers, although we also have a few local employers who are refusing their workers to get drugs for their ART. We also have incidences where some Zambian maids are also not allowed to get their drugs for ART treatment,” she said.
For fear of losing their jobs, most workers on ART opt to send their relatives or neighbours to collect the drugs on their behalf. Unfortunately, this has not worked because it is not allowed for any person to collect ART drugs on behalf of the patient
“We do not recommend other people to get drugs on behalf of our patients because we have to counsel them and advise them to adhere to their drugs. We also assess them on whether they are responding well to treatment or not,” she said.
Another worker of a named company in Kafue who declined to give his name, said they tried to negotiate with the medical personnel at the clinic to give them an opportunity to be collecting the drugs on weekends but that this did not yield any positive results.
One of the foreign employers, Soab Patel, proprietor of a wholesale shop in Kafue, said his brother who is also an employer ensures that his workers undergo Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) before employing them.
Mr Patel said his brother does not employ workers found to be HIV positive.
“As for myself, I do not have a problem employing someone who is sick. I have actually employed someone who suffers from concurrent seizures and I ensure that he seeks medical attention,” he said.
Mr Patel, however, sympathised with workers who are denied permission to access ART, saying it is inhuman.
Another renowned business man who refused to be named said it does not make sense for any reasonable employer to deny his/her workers access to ART.
“Who does that and what kind of human beings are they? Employers should consider their workers’ health as priority because if someone is sick, they cannot deliver according to the company’s expectation,” he said.
Several other foreign employers who did not want to be named said they have not had any problems with their employees accessing medical services because it is their right.
“We do not hesitate giving permits to our workers whenever they are sick. We sometimes do not know what type of sickness they have because most of them bring a sick note for records’ purposes,” they said.
But some workers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said their employers do not regard them as human beings because they are not allowed to get their HIV drugs.
“Our employers are fully aware that HIV is a fast killer if one does not adhere to medication. Does it mean that their mission is to see to it that we die in numbers? They know that we cannot live longer without ARV drugs,” they said.
The workers have since called on Government to sensitise and educate employers about the health implication of not adhering to HIV medication if the matter was to be addressed.
This does not only pose a threat to workers’ lives but is a draw back on the efforts by Government to achieve the Millennium Development Goal number six of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Government is however not sitting idle on the matter as Deputy Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya says, investigations will soon be launched into the matter.
“We have not received any report on that but we will launch investigations,” Dr Chilufya said.
Meanwhile, Ms Liswaniso also revealed that ART supporters in the district face a lot of challenges in following up clients who have not disclosed their HIV status to their partners.
“The ART supporters are forced to become tactic when approaching clients that have not disclosed their status to their partners and if they notice that the environment is not conducive, they pretend to be lost to avoid causing havoc in marriages,” she said.
And one of the ART supporters for Nangongwe ART centre trained by the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan, Albert Mbunji said the biggest challenge he has been facing is how to ensure children adhere to ART because most parents and guardians were negligent.
“Children do not get much help from caregivers who are either their parents or guardians. This is why we are asking AAR Japan to help us form caregiver groups,” Mr Mbunji said.
Ms Liswaniso thanked AAR Japan for constructing an ART centre and improving the health standards of people living with HIV and AIDS in Kafue and other surrounding communities.
“When AAR Japan came in 2012, they started like a joke. They didn’t seem vibrant because they did not come with attractive incentives. We underrated them. They asked what we wanted them to do for us and we requested for the construction of a spacious ART centre,” she said.
“In the old ART clinic, there was no confidentiality as it was crowded because the medical personnel like the clinical offices, adherence counsellors, and the registry personnel were all packed in the same room. The situation could have caused Tuberculosis,” Mrs Liswaniso said.
“AAR Japan has helped improve the health standards of people living with HIV and AIDS in Kafue because before they built the clinic here, the old ART room was hazardous and prone to other infectious diseases,” she said.
“We are attending to clients from places like Lukolongo, Mwanamaimba in Mazabuka, Kafue, George and other people from Lusaka prefer coming here because of stigma. We have enrolled 3,770 patients from 2005 to date and 1,871 are on ART treatment,” Ms Liswaniso said.
We are asking if we can be given an ART mobile service where we can make a schedule to meet clients in their nearest points, she said.
And AAR Japan programme coordinator Tomoni Awamura said her organisation is committed to promoting ART in local communities.
“We have constructed ART clinics in Mount Makulu and Nangogwe health centre in Kafue and the other one is currently under construction in Mwembeshi,” she said.

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