This Week our columnist Gerald Kitabu caught up with Anna Ikolola, a Nursing Officer at Namanyere hospital in Nkasi district, Rukwa region and in this interview she sheds light on HIV/Aids prevalence in the district: EXCERPTS:
Question: Districts located at the border have higher HIV/Aids prevalence rates, what is the situation here?
Answer: Nkasi district borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The two are separated by Lake Tanganyika. Usually there are movements of people, goods and services from one country to another as such the rate of infection must be higher than in other parts of the country which are not located at the border. People from diverse backgrounds move here and there in search of a better life.
However, the most dangerous group is the business community because sometimes these people leave home for several months or years to do business and in the course of so doing, they get new sexual partners whose backgrounds they do not know. This contributes to accelerating HIV/Aids infections.
Q. What is the people’s response on voluntary counseling and testing?
A. Unlike in the past, today many people are becoming aware of their health statuses by testing. People are also opening up on their health statuses. They are more willing to go for voluntary counseling and testing and when they test positive for HIV, they usually enroll for ARV treatment.
Q. How many newly infected people are enrolled per day?
A. I don’t have the exact number but they may be more than ten. This shows that many people are becoming aware of the importance of testing. Women account for the biggest percentage of new cases.
Q: Why women?
A: There are many reasons, but biologically, women are more vulnerable to HIV infection in many ways. It is very easy for a woman to contract HIV because of the nature of her genital organs.
Another reason is poverty. If you look at the economic status between men and women, you will find that women are poorer than men. As a result, they are forced to engage in unprotected sex so as to earn an income. Men are also to blame. Polygamy accelerates HIV infection. If men were faithful to their wives, many women would be safe.
Q. What challenges do you face as a health worker?
A. There are many. First, some poor people infected with HIV are very difficult to manage because they don’t have money to get a balanced diet. In order for ARVs to work properly, one must eat a balanced diet. I think you are aware that many Tanzanians, especially those in rural areas, still live below one dollar a day.
Another problem is the shortage of staff. For example it may happen that someone is assigned to take care of HIV/Aids patients at a particular time while they have other duties to perform like attending other patients in the wards. When this happens, the HIV/Aids patients feel neglected and stigmatized.
Some HIV/Aids patients lack home based care and as a result, they come to health providers to ask for money, food and other needs and sometimes they may ask you in person. The problem is that you can’t support all of them at once and so the rest feel ignored.
Sometimes you may not be in a position to help them at all and this makes them feel very bad. However, those who live far away face difficulties in reaching health centres and some of them stop coming to collect drugs.
Q: What can say on availability of drugs?
A. This is another challenge because sometimes there are not enough drugs to fight opportunistic infections. But the hospital is trying its best to make sure that all patients are treated and cared for on time.
Q. Your advice?
A. Aids kills. People should therefore be faithful and stick to only one partner or use condoms. Men should respect their wives because if you respect your partner you obviously will love her and if you love her you will not kill her with Aids.