Namibia: Living in Squalor, With No Food - Mother and Son Stop Taking ARV Treatment
A 27-year-old young woman and her eight-year old son live in a state of squalor that surprised even their own community. Health extension workers where shocked to the marrow of their bones by the discovery at Rundu's Sauyemwa location.
The difficulty did not arise from the living conditions alone but from the realisation that the young woman was not able to care of herself and son because of her poor health.
Both are HIV-positive. And while they have access to ARV treatment, often they do not take their medication because of lack of food. The woman's physical appearance tells of the toll the illness has inflicted on her, both physically and mentally.
The place she calls home - a hut made from a mixture of clear plastic bags, pieces of discarded corrugated iron, grass and wood - would not lift any human spirit.
Inside the hovel in which they sleep, past the wider opening they use as a door, lying on the sand are their meagre earthly possessions. These comprise of some clothes, broken furniture and mealiemeal sacks that make the hut look more like a place of hoarders who gather discarded things from dumpsites.
The only signs that there was any food in the hut were a recycled clear 5-litre water container, half-full, at the entrance of the hut and what looked like a cooking pot that had endured too many open fires, perched atop the hut, outside.
The woman, who asked not to be named to protect the identity of her son (and also because her family are not aware of her status), narrated her ordeal candidly to this reporter. She said her son does not attend school, despite the fact that public schools in the area are offering free education.
One of the reasons she has not allowed him to attend school the woman - whom we shall call Mariam - says, is because she has no means to provide a school uniform or shoes for the child. She would not like her son to be subjected to additional humiliation at school.
"I have nowhere to go for help as I am also not fit to get a job at the moment. I have a son but have nothing to offer him," she said.
The story of Mariam's poverty stricken life was brought to the attention of New Era by Beatrice Sitali, the community forum coordinator for Kavango people living with HIV.
"I came to discover her recently through a default address [community healthcare givers who follow up on patients who are likely to stop taking their medication]," says Sitali.
It is people such as Sitali who look after the health of those inflicted with illnesses in villages, working through support groups to get those who are otherwise unable to or discouraged and are about to give up on their treatment at the Community Disease Control clinics and make sure they collect their anti-retroviral medicines.
"I came to her and we realised that the situation is beyond our control as our organisation doesn't have a funder and it is a bit difficult to assist her," said Sitali.
"She is an orphan, who has no [family] assistance, so we took her into our group. Looking at the place where she sleeps with her son, it is really not inhabitable, especially now that we are heading towards winter. Looking at her [health] condition - it is going to get worse, she could really use the support of good Samaritans out there," Sitali pleaded.
The neighbours too are concerned. "As you can see, this woman is suffering. Look at where she sleeps with her son, she is struggling with the HIV virus and she has recently been diagnosed with TB," said one of Mariam's more friendlier neighbours, who lends a hand whenever they can.
"She has to take the medication, but has no food. We sometimes help her with some food, but we are also unable to do so all the time," said the neighbour pitifully.
Mariam says both her parents have long passed on and she has lost touch with the members of her family to the extent that they do not even know of her current destitution.
"It is just that I have no energy for work, as I am really unfit and sickly. I could have looked for a job even to clean someone's yard just to buy food, but I am unable to and my son is also living with me, going through the same conditions and I can't help the situation," she says.
According to Sitali, there are a lot of patients out in the villages around Rundu who are going through similar challenges and they try assist them were they can.
"She has trust in me and she disclosed to me her condition. Like the President [Hage Geingob] said, 'if one Namibian is poor, we are all poor'. Looking at her she can do something. It is just [her] life [situation] which is pulling her down," said Sitali.
Sitali is hopeful that should Mariam get assistance to sleep in a better and more hospitable place, as the psychological effects of that would lead to an improvement in her life.
"Her health is deteriorating because she has no proper shelter, she does not have food, yet she has to take her medication. She needs water and also needs to look for a job... all these things have become problems in her life. So, she can't think straight and consumes whatever she comes across, even alcohol."
Sitali and her group have since embarked on a campaign that knocks on good Samaritans' doors taking whatever assistance is offered. Their aim is to provide the basic necessities for the mother and child, so that they, at the very least, can erect a warm shelter.
By John Muyamba