The Anti-retroviral Clinic (ART)
This week, Nicole and Sue spent some time at the ART clinic attatched to the hospitial here in Mongu. In Canada we would probably call this the H.I.V. clinic.
In our four years of nursing school Sue has only encountered one person that was HIV positive taking anti retroviral medication and Nicole has seen none. In one day we saw over 200 people. Over the week, we saw almost 1000 plus infected people lined up waiting to be seen for treatment. In 2012, 12.7% of adults in Zambia were living with HIV. Compare this to Canada's 0.002% (as per the public health agency of Canada). The clinic we were at sees 20,500 citizens alone for anti-retroviral medications and treatment. It is the second largest treatment centre in Zambia with Lusaka being the first.
(The filing system at the ART clinic)
Since they started reporting HIV cases in Canada in 1985 there has been a cumulative total of 75,000 HIV cases. Based off these numbers it is evident how drastically our countries differ in the prevalence of HIV.
When sitting in with the pharmacist who administers medications to about 200 people a day, we were told that HIV is "normal here". She asked us what would be normal in Canada. In thinking about it, patients with high blood pressure came to mind but as a nurse we would still never see 200 people a day with hypertension. There also wouldn't be the incredible stigma on these people that comes with being HIV positive. Reflecting a little later, we thought how often we see diabetic patients. These patients must check their blood sugar sometimes up to 3 times a day and have insulin injections to maintain their health for the rest of their lives. People living in Zambia that are HIV positive must have blood drawn once every six months and take a pill every day for the rest of their lives.
Nurses in Canada talk about how abnormal it is to not have a diabetic patient on their team. Imagine if those patients where instead HIV positive and living in Canada. This is what the nurses face in Zambia. Not having any patients with HIV would be abnormal for them.
HIV and AIDS takes 30,300 lives in Zambia a year according to a study done in 2012. Compared to less than 1,000 in Canada.
Although we were seeing these people with our own eyes it was still very difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that everyone we saw was positive. Some of these people were visibly very sick, while others appeared healthy and HIV free. It allowed us to see how on one hand this disease has the potential to be managed with adherence to medications but for those who do not have the access to aid, the disease can be easily masked and unknowingly transmitted between people.