SCORES of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) patients in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North were losing their lives before the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Spain set base at the district in 2004, Victor Garcia Leonor, the head of mission of the international medical humanitarian organisation in Zimbabwe, has said.
Leonor was speaking at Pumula Mission Hospital in Tsholotsho to bid farewell to the community since MSF Spain is now pulling out of Zimbabwe. He said comprehensive HIV and TB healthcare services at government hospitals and clinics in Tsholotsho were non-existent when the organisation set base there 14 years ago resulting in most people losing their lives.
MSF Spain set up TB and HIV healthcare services in all the 19 government health facilities in Tsholotsho.
“At that time, health facilities in the district, and mainly the Tsholotsho District Hospital, were overloaded by the high numbers of HIV patients who were seeking healthcare assistance,” Leonor said.
“The anti-retroviral therapy had not yet been introduced in the district and therefore many lives were lost because of the virus. Stigma and discrimination were also highly present among a population who had poor information about the disease, how to prevent it and how to treat it.”
Leonor said MSF Spain had been preparing for its exit since October 2013 and had taken a number of steps for the transition, including skills transfer to the Health and Child Care ministry personnel. He indicated that TB and HIV were no longer a death warrant in the district since the medical humanitarian organisation started operating in Tsholotsho.
“And how is this change possible in just a decade? Over these years, MSF has worked in close collaboration with the Health and Child Care ministry to introduce and roll out a comprehensive OI/ART (opportunistic infection/antiretroviral treatment) programme targeting all aspects of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” he said.
“The success of the project in Tsholotsho is attributable to community-wide HIV service model built on the public health approach to ART.
“The project has evolved from an initial access-focused framework of simplification, decentralisation and task shifting/sharing into a more comprehensive framework of integration of OI/ART services to general clinical services which include tuberculosis, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and outpatient department as well as the use of less toxic anti-retroviral therapy regimes,” Leonor added.