A Fist Through the Wall 

A Fist Through the Wall

I wouldn’t generally describe myself as an angry person. But somewhere inside is this boiling mass of outrage that periodically comes bubbling up to the surface. And i imagine myself punching my fist through the wall. Or hurling some large object through the window.

Like this morning. I’ve been house sitting—a euphemism really for squatting at a friend’s place whilst she’s away. There’s not much to do, except to look out for Chipo, the domestic worker who comes round once a week to clean the place. 8 weeks or so ago she broke out in a nasty skin rash and went to the clinic. Not surprisingly, perhaps, in a country where over a quarter of the adult population is infected, she tested positive for HIV. There is a clinical trials programme run through the state University and state Hospital to provide Anti-Retro Virals [ARV’s] free to people on the programme. In a Constant Gardener-esque manoeuvre, the drug companies supply the ARV’s so that the impoverished Zimbabwean population can test their safety for the sensitive potential patients in the developing world. So obviously there’s a bit of a risk in getting on the programme. But, with unemployment at 80%, inflation soaring at over 500% and rising, and the country’s health care system collapsing, free risky drugs are more of a chance at survival than most people here have.

To qualify for the programme, your CD4 [T-cell] count must be 200 or lower. So to try and get Chipo onto the programme, she went to the ARV programme at the hospital to find out her count. She left her uncle’s contact number, and they promised they would phone her when her results were ready. Three weeks later, she still hadn’t heard, and we spent one morning fruitlessly trying to phone the Hospital and find that particular programme to ask if she could collect her results yet. We were given the run around, and no one at the Hospital seemed to know the numbers for the annex we needed.

In the meantime, she had been going to the clinic in the high density area where she stays, and had been given tablets, injections and cream that was helping with the rash. But at $400,000 per small tube of cream, and $200,000 per injection she could barely afford it, so I chipped in for another week of that. She then went to visit her family in the rural areas for a week. When she came back, much to my surprise, her uncle had been phoned and her results were ready. My fear had been that her count might be just over 200. Low enough to indicate just how poorly she was doing, but a bit too high to automatically qualify for the programme. I had envisioned myself having to go with her every week to the programme office to sit outside and demand that she be included in the trials.

Instead, her CD4 count was 27. Desperately low, and a terrifying indication that, even if she does get onto ARV’s quite quickly, she might not have much longer to live. It also suggests that she may have been infected for many years now. Her four year old daughter has not yet been tested.

This morning I was waiting with some bread, fresh vegetables and money for her, anticipating her weekly arrival. Her uncle phoned, to say she won’t be coming in today because she’s at the clinic. She’s pregnant.

And that’s when the anger came in. Not so much with her, per se. I know it’s naïve to expect most Zimbabwean women to be able to demand protected sex. Or to express mistrust with their partner, or to demand fidelity from a man. But anger at the position of women and children in this society. And at the bad governance and mismanagement that continues to drive this country’s hopes further and further into the ground. What future for her, her daughter, or her unborn child? As Zimbabwe’s president mugabe celebrates his 82nd birthday, how many will die this week alone before they reach a fraction of that age. A fist through the wall is just the beginning.

Constant Gardener
CD4 Count

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