Zinhle Mapumulo revisits a South African village in desperate need of health services and is pleasantly surprised.
Eight months ago, just before the G8 meeting in Germany, I visited the village of Mazista in the North West Province of South Africa and blogged about the stigma and fear felt there around HIV.
I described how villagers were too scared to disclose their HIV status and how the only easily accessible health service was a mobile clinic that visited twice a month.
A week after returning from Germany I received a call from the North West Department of Health inviting me to an open day in Mazista where they were planning to educate people about HIV and AIDS and voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).
Before I had a chance to accept, their media liaison asked me why I had to air their dirty laundry to the world. His question took me by surprise but made me wonder whether my article had anything to do with their invitation. I was told it was a coincidence.
I couldn’t make it to the open day and in any case I wasn’t sure it was worth travelling 300 km for what I believed to be a publicity stunt for the health department. To my surprise it was not.
The people of Mazista now have a mobile clinic that comes twice a week. Here they have access to testing and counselling for HIV. Some drugs not previously available, such as medication for tuberculosis, are also being delivered.
I learned this after a recent visit to the village, when once again I met Mmabo Lefatshe who had been so open about her HIV status and outspoken about the lack of services. She told me that some people in the village had been angry when they heard from the health authority that their business had been told to the world, but she said they now understood.
Lwandile Sicwetsha, health department spokesman told me Mazista had been identified as one of the priority areas for healthcare services in the province. “Home-based caregivers have been trained and are now working in the village and updating the ministry with information regarding health needs of people in Mazista,” he told me.
“Mobile clinics visit the area twice a week, but this is complemented by health programmes targeting the area with door-to-door campaigns and awareness campaigns on HIV and AIDS, pap smear and mental health.”
Good progress indeed. But even more could be done.
According to villagers the door-to-door visits happen once a month - not enough but better than nothing. However, the problem of access to antiretrovirals is yet to be addressed. Villagers still have to travel miles to get treatment.
And I am worried that people may not be taking advantage of the VCT being offered. The department could not provide me with data showing that people were utilising these services.
Things have definitely improved. But I suspect the final hurdle of overcoming stigma which prevents many from going for testing will take longer to surmount.