HIV Patients Struggle to Access Medicine Due to Lockdown Restrictions


Lopinavir is one of the HIV drugs being used to treat coronavirus. Universal Images Group via Getty Images

by Lizwe Sebatha

BULAWAYO, April 10, 2020. (The Citizen Bulletin) — Hundreds of people living with HIV in Matabeleland South are struggling to refill their medication as the country’s ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown makes it hard for them to leave their homes and go to hospital without being blocked by police officers. 

Matabeleland South is yet to record a COVID-19 case although the proximity of the province to South Africa, a hotspot of the virus, has prompted Zimbabwe’s health authorities to be on alert by restricting human traffic through Beitbridge.

Matabeleland South is one of the most HIV affected provinces in Zimbabwe. 

Dumisani Nkomo, an HIV activist and president of Adventist International HIV Aids Society, a welfare organization for people living with HIV, said many HIV patients in Matabeleland South were facing challenges to visit health centers to get their medication. 

Nkomo alleged some of the HIV patients were frustrated by police who subjected them to stigmatization by forcibly asking them to disclose their health status whenever they sought to leave their homes for medical purposes. He said forced disclosure of one’s health status was illegal. 

“In a way, it is forced disclosure where someone is forced to disclose his/her status to a public official, a police officer in this case, that he/she does not know, and it’s an infringement on patient information confidentiality,” Nkomo said (sic). 

HIV patients should not be subjected to stigma and discrimination as Zimbabwe implements strategies to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Nkomo said. 

According to Nkomo, although the risk of serious illness or infection with coronavirus for people living with HIV remains unknown, many HIV patients have concerns and questions related to their risk as their existing health condition suppresses their immune systems. 

Nkomo said the country's health authorities should send tailor-made awareness messages to people living with HIV so that they are able to make informed decisions to protect themselves from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

“While there is no denying that there is a public health emergency in the face of Covid-19, it should not be forgotten that we have also not won the battle against HIV/Aids and as such one would also have expected tailor-made messaging targeting those living with the disease,” Nkomo advised.

Matabeleland South provincial medical director Ruth Chikorodze and police spokesperson chief inspector Philisani Ndebele did not immediately respond to questions sent to them Thursday afternoon. 

In China’s Hubei province — where the novel coronavirus was first reported — HIV patients suffered the same fate, before an intervention by authorities. 

According to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), stigma and discrimination accross the continent prevents HIV patients from accessing medical services during lockdowns. People living with HIV are often forced to avoid going to clinics for fear of having their status disclosed,UNAIDS said. 

Editor’s note: This article will be updated as soon as a comment from provincial authorities is obtained. 

COVID-19 Lockdown,, COVID-19,, HIV,

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