The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic at the dawn of 2020 has literally forced everyone the world at large to adjust their routine activities in different ways, in a bid to fight the deadly epidemic. Health facilities have been over-burdened, with health personnel putting their lives on the line to attend to the never-ending exposed cases and patients with full blown symptoms.
In Limbe District Hospital, the health personnel have not been left indifferent to this “new normal” in their health facility. With the number of new infections on the rise, precautionary measures to contain the spread of the diseases were taken.
An isolation section was created in the hospital to better take care of patients with full-blown symptoms while the stipulated preventive measures were strictly followed. These include; thorough handwashing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub; maintain at least a 1-meter distance between persons, and wearing of face masks in the health facility.
Despite these measures put in place to assist the inhabitants of Limbe to better handle the health crisis, the Hospital keeps receiving fewer patients daily as they fear it is the breeding ground for the virus and would only come to the hospital as a last resort. The Limbe Regional Hospital that usually received about 3.000-4.000 patients on a monthly basis has seen attendance dwindle since March 2020 and in July it could barely attend to 2.000 patients.
“I fear for my life, I know I need constant follow-up and I need to visit the health facility to collect my ART Treatment, but the risk of going to the health facility now is enormous. Besides, we hear doctors are paid 20.000 thousand francs per case they infect with Coronavirus,” explained Rosette, a client on ART treatment suffering from severe malaria who hesitated to be admitted in the hospital. Like Rosette, several PLHIV have joined the general population to desert the hospitals to the detriment of their treatment. This has affected key indicators like case identification, retention on ART and viral load uptake.
According to medical experts, people with chronic health conditions like HIV may be at greater risk of contracting or experiencing complications from COVID-19. Hence, when PLHIV expose themselves more by not adhering to treatment, they increase their vulnerability rates to opportunistic infections and COVID-19 since their immune systems will be further compromised.
“People are dying of treatable diseases because of the threats of COVID-19,” Dr. Laura posits
To address this problem, the HIV-Free South West team has joined the other teams in Zone 1 to strategizing new technics to adapt to the new normal and meet the need of the people they are called to serve. To ensure no one defaults from treatment, the site lead of Limbe – Dr. Laura has worked together with her team to carry out community consultation and dispensation of ARV treatment. Clusters of PLHIV have been created where the HIV-Free team pay monthly visits for ART dispensation. The team also carries out routine basic consultations in communities, door-to-door testing of HIV, network with other small clinics in town to identify exposed clients while identifying and referring severe cases to the hospital for better management.
Rosette like many others, whose phobia for the hospital in recent times caused them to miss their appointments in the hospital, are now excited to take their medication in the community.
By taking life-saving drugs and health care services closer to the people in dire need is an approach adopted by the HIV-Free SW Team to ensure no one is left behind.