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Couple's efforts bring access to scarce remedies

By unknown | Dec 11, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Good news is hard to come by in rural Eastern Cape, but Madwaleni Hospital's HIV programme is inspiring.

Good news is hard to come by in rural Eastern Cape, but Madwaleni Hospital's HIV programme is inspiring.

The petite blonde woman rams the bakkie into first gear, her eyes fixed on the muddy, rocky path that winds up the impossibly steep hill. The engine whines in protest as the vehicle inches forward in the thick mud.

"That's the thing, there is no road and it's sometimes hard to decide which path you should choose," says Lynne Wilkinson, as she navigates her way up Nqileni's green hills, a far cry from her former life as a corporate attorney.

Wilkinson swings the vehicle between the hawkers peering from bright-green corrugated iron shacks on either side of Madwaleni Hospital's gate and parks outside the HIV clinic.

It's Tuesday lunch time and a few patients in pink gowns are standing under trees or stretching out on the grass, sheltering from the sweltering sun.

In the corridor, Wilkinson's partner, Dr Richard Cooke, a tall man in a pink shirt and chinos, is already working his way through a queue of patients.

Towards the back of the hospital, singing leads to a room where more than 50 men and women are sitting in a semi-circle, some in traditional Xhosa garb, others in jeans and T-shirts and some holding children on their laps.

One or two women are holding pill bottles in the air, swaying from side to side. An elderly woman, her toes peeking through her tattered black takkies, slowly claps her hands.

"We are singing: 'We are beautiful for ARVs and then we are beautiful'," one of the singers translates.

The crowd is attending the weekly support group meeting for people living with HIV. But to fully appreciate this scene, it's important to first take a few steps back to 2004 when Cooke and Wilkinson sought out a deep rural hospital in the old Transkei. Their goal was to set up a holistic HIV programme that would include access to antiretrovirals.

"I was no longer interested in making money for other people. I wanted to work at grassroots level," said Wilkinson.

The couple met shortly after Cooke had finished his studies.

"Richard was busy doing his community service in Mthatha. We had different skills to offer and we decided we wanted to find a rural site where we could use our combined skills to help people," explains Wilkinson.

Madwaleni fitted the bill.

Wilkinson and Cooke also believe the support they received from Nomalanga Makwedini, head of the province's HIV directorate, allowed them to set up the programme.

"She saw the big picture and saw the value someone like Lynne could bring to the programme," recalls Cooke.

"There is so much opportunity to do so many things in this environment. Here we can focus on HIV and Bhisho (provincial government) has never said no to anything," says Cooke.

Cooke was initially appointed as the clinical head of the HIV programme, but has now taken over as clinical head of the whole hospital, while Wilkinson runs the entire HIV programme.

The 220-bed district hospital, built as a missionary hospital in the 1950s, is about 30km southeast of Elliotdale and about 110km from Mthatha.

It is in a poor district in the country and serves a population of 140000. - Health e-News


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