January 24, 2014

Mother of Mercy Hospice, ChilangaThe picture to the left should be everyone’s wish fulfilled. It is a photograph of the children’s room at Chilanga Hospice in Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka. Together with (RED) partners and supporters, I visited the hospice, which was founded in 1997, originally as a place where HIV/AIDS patients could go to die.

At the time, the hospice cared for 500 patients per month, and death rates were at around 70 percent. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) were not yet available. Today, the hospice has a small ward with 21 beds, but caters mainly to outpatients, who come to the clinic to be tested or treated for HIV, tuberculosis, or both.

Thanks to ARV and treatment for tuberculosis, also funded by the Global Fund, most patients at Chilanga can live healthy, productive livesAnd thanks to ARVs that are offered to pregnant women who are HIV-positive through prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT), fewer and fewer HIV-positive infants are born in Zambia – and these beds can ideally stay empty.

Photo caption: Chilanga Hospice, Zambia. Photo credit: Katri Kemppainen-Bertram/ ONE. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Each year, more than 9,500 children continue to be born with HIV in Zambia.  Although this figure has decreased from 21,000 in 2009, there remains work to be done not only with PMTCT, but also in preventing the 200 HIV-infections that occur each day in Zambia, and bringing down the number of deaths per year from 31,000.

Chilanga just re-opened a month ago, after having to close down for a year. During the period of closure, staff continued to run emergency services on a voluntary, unpaid basis, but most patients had to be referred to surrounding clinics, which are running at overcapacity even without additional patients.

Thanks to the dedication of the people who work at the hospice, a new donor has been found, and Global Fund-funded ARVs, as well as other HIV and TB services, can again be carried out through Chilanga. The children’s beds will again soon fill up, but these children will receive medical treatment, loving support and hopefully be able to grow up to be healthy, productive adults.

But Chilanga is not an exception. A second HIV clinic in Lusaka, Kalingalinga, has recently been forced to close down all adult wards, and cut 25 out of 50 staff, due to the termination of a donor’s funding. However, an ARV clinic for HIV outpatients continues to operate through the Global Fund. If a new donor is found, the hospice hopes to soon re-open its adult wards.

Approximately 970,000 people in Zambia, out of a population of 14 million, are HIV-positive. ARVs, distributed by the Global Fund and for free, currently keep 85.2 percent of these people alive and capable of living healthy, productive lives.

 

This blog post was written by ONE’s health policy associate, Katri Kemppainen-Bertram