25 Apr 2006
HIV Keeps Walking in Rural Cameroon.
It has been over two decades that the scourge of AIDS has been robbing many people in Africa of their joy and loved ones and there seems to be no end in sight. I have been monitoring the evolution of this disease and its impact on the rural population in Cameroon. One of such rural areas is Batibo.
Batibo Health District is located in the North West Province of Cameroon. According to official Cameroon Government statistics, this province has the highest HIV prevalence among the country’s ten provinces. I paid a visit to Dr. Yumo (head of Batibo AIDS treatment Center) in his office at the hospital recently to get an update on the situation of the AIDS pandemic in Batibo Health District. I asked him a question on the statistics of HIV/AIDS in Batibo health district and this is what he said.
“We have not carried out a survey to know the rate of infection in this District, But what we can give you here as concrete statistics is that HIV stands as the first cause of mortality in adults in in this Health District”.
“According to the 2004 National demographic survey, the North West province has a prevalence rate of 8.7% (11.9% female and 5.2% male) and this can be extrapolated to Batibo Health District. It is estimated that the population of this health District is 100,000. We can assume that there are about 8700 people living with HIV/AIDS in Batibo Health District.” Cameroon (pop. 16 million) has a national HIV prevalence rate of 5.5%.
I took some time to make contacts with some of the victims of HIV. In all, I contacted four patients. It should be noted that due to the stigma surrounding the disease, few patients are willing to open up and admit let alone discuss at length about their illness. I managed to gain the confidence of one 28-year-old lady. For the purpose of this report, I will call her Sally (not real name). She let me talk with her freely and even take photos. In reporting about HIV, one has to strike a balance between the need to inform the general public and the need to maintain the confidentiality of patients. This widow with four children (youngest two years) lives with her parents who are poor and old. When I came visiting, the father of Sally (over eighty) sat by the fireside and wore a face of indifference to the torments around him. The mother who was much younger was grinding some herbal medicine brought by a ‘native doctor’ that introduced himself as Dr Anthony. “I can treat all diseases of the internal organs and those related to sex. I can make a woman that brings forth only girls to conceive a boy. I can treat sexual impotence, waist pain and chronic headache” When I inquired how he came about that wealth of knowledge, his reply; “When I sleep in the night in a room alone with my legs crossed, the spirits reveal these medicinal herbs to me”. I inquired from the mother of the patient what ‘Dr’ Anthony specifically came to treat. She said her (HIV infected) daughter Sally has some abnormal condition on her abdomen that the herbalist claims he can rectify. I told the patient and her parents in the presence of the herbalist that it were necessary they discontinued herbal medicine and concentrate on medicines obtained from the hospital. The herbalist was quick to discourage my idea, saying; “People that receive treatment from me do not need to take ‘white man’s medicine’ again”. I reminded him that I believe there are certainly some diseases that he cannot treat. “The only diseases that I cannot treat are AIDS and cancer”. He replied. Here was a ‘doctor’ attending to one of the complications of AIDS without knowing that his patient is down with AIDS.
Another patient that I prefer to call only as Imma, had taken the same path as Sally before. When I visited him in November 2005, he was a shadow of his former self. He looked very lean and much older than his 38 years. The smile had completely disappeared from his face. He was in constant pain “I cannot bear the pains coming from my ribs. Each time I cough, it is as if the ribs will fall off”. Imma was suffering from tuberculosis (a usual disease associated with HIV/AIDS). He had moved from hospital to hospital and from one herbalist to another with no improvement of his condition. “This cough cannot even allow me to lie down and as such I sleep sitting on this chair.” He said in a barely audible voice. “I have suffered enough from this sickness, my business is down and I do not own anything in this world and yet I cry of pain everyday” Shaking his head with tears running down his cheeks, he added “I do not know what to do…I do not know what to do”. I was told that Imma died bankrupt in January. AIDS had robbed him of all his earthly belongings and replaced them with pain. Death finally came to put an end to his pains.
The Cameroon government has put in enormous efforts to convince and orientate HIV positive people to the various treatment centers nationwide, but somehow the lure to alternate medicines still pulls some of the patients to risky adventures with charlatans.
As illustrated in Imma’s story, AIDS impoverishes and bankrupts whole families before finally robbing them of their loved ones. As it often happens, the breadwinners (mother and father) exhaust all the family assets before dying, leaving behind orphans with no means to survive in this ever competitive world.
Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah