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Whose responsibility?

Money isn't everything Malawi - Whose responsibility

Circumstances have taught me that money isn’t everything, despite its enormous power in our society. It is a hard pill to swallow but certainly it is a trustworthy reality. The adage goes ‘Money talks’ but truly, it isn’t everything. Money was my life-force. I used to say that in times of sickness, my money will give me the best medical treatment I will ever need either abroad or within the country at the most expensive private hospitals with state-of-art medical facilities. The endless pursuit of money and the inability to know when enough is enough corrupted my mind to the extent that I thought money was everything. Nonetheless, I had always felt bad for the poor Malawians; those who cannot earn a dollar per day. These are the type of people who when making phone calls press the red button of their phones before the called party says bye. Worry gets the best part of me when I think of these people. If these people fall sick and need special attention that they cannot find from the local government hospitals, they cannot manage to go abroad with their meager resources for medical attention not even at local privately owned hospitals whose services are the best but with ‘unfriendly’ charges.

On a business trip sometime back, I drove my black (V8) left hand drive Range Rover SUV on the lake shore road until 10pm to find my business associates in Mzuzu for a meeting. I had no idea where I was when I was involved in a car accident but it was at least 10 Kilometers before Golomoti Trading Center. The car veered into a field and hit a very big Baobab tree as I was trying to avoid a goat which jumped into the road. It was on this very day when I realized that there is a thin line between life and death. By the grace of God I survived the accident but with serious internal and external injuries since the air-bags had jammed and I did not put-on the seat belt. How irresponsible I was.

The car was crushed beyond repair. I fainted on the spot; the last thing I saw was the goat which I was avoiding and the first thing I saw after spending three days unconscious in the intensive care unit (ICU) was my beautiful wife. She narrated what had happened for me to be found in the ICU. By this time I had already received two pints of blood to sustain the life that I nearly lost. One week after, I was discharged but the Doctor strongly advised that I should be on a one month bed rest.

Within seven months after the accident, I started suffering from different kinds of diseases. It was very strange; my health started to deteriorate. The diseases alternated, soon after recovering from one, another developed.

It was pathetic, my bedroom which once was a haven, turned into a drug store full of medicines mainly ordered from abroad to support my health which was deteriorating at a constant rate. All these bad developments, forced my Doctor to ask me if I could go for a full blood test so that she can be able to figure out the root cause of all the strange diseases. I had nothing to fear since I had been doing it regularly for the reasons best known to my Doctor. The test was conducted but this time the results were totally different from all the previous ones. Amongst the new results was the “HIV reactive”, and this was a shock to me and my wife. We agreed that we should go to Malawi Aids Counseling Resource Organization (MACRO) to have a retest for the HIV virus.

The night before the second test was the longest night I ever had. The next day we went to MACRO as agreed, and I explained about the new and outlandish results to the Counselor who also happened to be my friend. He was also shocked because he was the one who tested us as HIV non-reactive some eight months ago when my wife was one week pregnant; nevertheless, he thanked us for the step we had taken. He did the test and the results matched with the last results from our Doctor. This was poignant news to swallow, and there was a somber mood in the room. The Counselor advised my wife to start the treatment for the unborn baby, though it was too late. He also asked me to have my CD4 count tested.

On our way back home, silence reigned in the car; we were all broken and speechless. The news of our HIV status was the fountain of tears to both of us, but I tried to be a man for my wife who silently cried until we got home. I had no peace of mind; her tears broke me even more. I was 100 percent faithful to my wife, and I was also confident that she was 100 percent faithful to me too, until this day we had many questions of how the virus got into our veins and had no answers. The table turned without any warning, my peaceful marriage turned into a life imprisonment in a maximum security prison. The first word from my wife was “why” and this “why” was for God. “Why me God?” she asked the Almighty. “I have been faithful to my husband all my marriage life” she continued. This time I realized that the blaming game has started, and I saw myself receiving questions from my wife which I could not answer. I called my Doctor to meet me at my house as soon as possible. The Doctor told us to accept the condition and try to live positively.

Time passed with every one of us still searching where we went wrong to deserve the deadly virus. Little did we know that revelation time was at hand. One day, my only brother in-law came to bid us farewell since he was travelling to Botswana. During supper that night, my brother in-law told us that his visit was not only to ask us if we wanted anything from his trip to Botswana, but he wanted to tell us that he was found HIV positive just one month after my accident. I asked him what had kept him all this time to tell us, and he said he refused to have the results at that time and he was only ready last week to receive the results. He was told by his Doctor that he was found HIV reactive long time ago but since he was not ready for the results at the time, the Doctor had no choice but to keep the results to himself. Soon after his narration of his story, my wife asked me to have a word with me in private.

She told me that there was something I was supposed to know. After the accident, the hospital which I was taken to had run short of blood and I urgently needed two pints of blood according to the Doctor. Nonetheless, at the hospital’s blood bank, there was no blood, she said. My wife could not give me blood not only because she was pregnant, but also we had different blood groups. Her brother was also there and we had the same blood group ‘O’ negative, and he was the one who gave me the two pints of blood. I asked her if she was trying to tell me that her brother was the one who infected me with the virus through the blood transfusion, she said she was not sure and that if I know where I got the virus then she would be glad to know. I called my lawyer and explained everything to him. He advised me to go with my Doctor to the hospital where I was treated and find out what happened so that he can know whom to put charges on.

My Doctor and I went to the hospital the next morning. Upon arrival, we went straight to the District Hospital Officer (DHO) and narrated the reason for our visit. Gladly, she granted us the permission to go ahead and accomplish our mission.

She also asked us to give her our findings so that she could act if non-conformance was the cause. The Doctor and I went to the laboratory where the Doctor asked for the results of the blood test which the Lab Technician found during the time of my blood transfusion. The results were given to her and after analyzing them, she found out that the results were registered HIV non-reactive. We were all depressed since we all thought that we were supposed to find the results HIV positive, but as we were about to leave the room, my Doctor asked the Laboratory Technician to show her the test materials they used when testing for the HIV virus.

She quickly detected the reason upon seeing the materials. She told me that the materials they used are authorized materials for HIV testing but they are not capable of detecting the HIV virus when the virus is in its early stages. She told me that this is the reason why people are told to come again after three months to retest, and these three months are termed as “the window period”. The Lab Technician jumped in, saying these cases were many, some ten years ago and the Government had to come up with a lasting solution to the problem. That is when the government together with international organizations introduced the Malawi Blood Transfusion Service (MBTS). This body is responsible for the testing of any blood transmitted diseases and making by-products before the blood is given to patients through the hospitals. MBTS has equipment which can detect not only HIV virus at its early stage but also other blood transmitted diseases. The main problem the MBTS faces is the shortage of blood in its blood banks. Eighty thousand pints is required to supply all the hospitals in Malawi yearly, but only half of the required amount is collected. This is the case not because the MBTS lacks materials or human power, but rather simply because eligible blood donors do not donate.

It is sad to note that the amount of blood required is not achieved yet it is very small considering our population. A man can donate as many as four times a year, and this means that if we can only have twenty thousand men who can donate four times each in a year then the required amount will be attained. While men can donate up to four times a year, a woman can donate up to three times a year, and if only twenty seven thousand women could donate blood three times each then we can surpass the required amount.

Even if we can just have fifteen thousand men and seven thousand women to donate four times and three times yearly respectively then we can still have a surplus of blood. The mathematics can go on and on, but the key point is that; we have the potential to supply safe blood to those who are in need of it during the whole year.

When there is no painkiller drugs in the hospitals people do complain but those who can afford to buy in pharmacies and drug stores do buy the drugs, but when there is no blood in the hospitals’ blood banks no one can go to a pharmacy or drug store and buy the blood. The shortage of medicines in our hospitals is one of the poor conditions which sadly affects many poor ordinary Malawians, but the shortage of blood in the hospitals’ blood banks is one of the worst conditions and affects everyone regardless of social status. If we can start donating blood through the Malawi Blood Transfusion Service (MBTS) then cases like mine will cease to occur.

Author: Davrine Gondwe, Kuluka Volunteer

This article is based on real events from people interviewed by Kuluka volunteers. Take action to help improve healthcare in Malawi by becoming a blood donor today or make a contribution to help us to continue our activities.