Duration:4min 20 sec
KHOPOTSO: The corridors of Polokwane Hospital were buzzing with activity and staff exchanging friendly greetings as they walked past each other. We were making our way towards the hospital’s library to find some a quiet spot to talk with Dr Nokuzola Ntshona, affectionately known as Zola or Mzolisto to her patients. Once in a comfortable zone, the big-voiced Dr Zola Ntshona, spoke about some of the challenges she meets working in the Gynaecology, Obstetrics and Prevention-of-Mother-To-Child-HIV-Transmission Unit with pregnant women who are more likely than not to be HIV positive.
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: We do voluntary counselling and testing’¦ I find many of my patients here – more than I care to admit, actually – get the counselling. Whether they are listening or not listening, they get it’¦ There’s a code that they use on the clinic card. I see by looking on the front of it that she has received counselling. This is a patient who, because she’s in a high-risk clinic, she’s got other diseases. She’s not going to either deliver normally, she’s got pregnancy induced high-blood pressure or she’s got gestational diabetes or she’s got both’¦ I find they will all say they’ve had counselling. If you don’t ask ‘have you consented to be tested,’ you’ll never know. But when I do ask, one just said it this week, and she and I have been fighting for four weeks now, can you please get the testing? She said ‘I’ve had the counselling.’ I said I need the test. She said ‘Dr, man I’ve got so many problems in my head. My boyfriend is cheating on me. I’m diabetic.’ I said you look ill to me. Your blood sugar is extremely high, obviously your immune system is out and I need evidence that it is. Then we can help to protect the baby.
KHOPOTSO: What’s the reason that they give for not wanting to sign the consent form?
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: They say they’ve heard about this disease. The disease they haven’t heard about here is cervical cancer, which is almost endemic in South Africa. But HIV and AIDS? They’ve heard about it.
KHOPOTSO: Although many people know about HIV and AIDS, this does not necessarily translate into action to prevent the transmission of the virus. In Limpopo, with a population of 5.8 million people, Dr Ntshona is concerned that infection rates seen at her unit at the Polokwane provincial hospital are between 40 and 50 percent. She says the problem is not only amongst women, but it’s a general societal problem. I asked her what power she has as a doctor to persuade her patients otherwise.
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: Well, I’m a Roman Catholic. I’ve decided to go and address the ZCC Church in this region because our people are Christians. The Roman Catholic Church, which is my church, says something funny about condoms’¦ they don’t protect against HIV/AIDS. But, in this you have to practice in the language of the people and their culture. When I was in Mozambique, we heard of a bishop, in fact his son came to address us, who blesses condoms every month in his church. The Catholic Church ought to be doing that, I think, for this deadly disease. But who am I to say?
KHOPOTSO: She says not one sector of society can go it alone in fighting the AIDS epidemic.
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: The Ministry of Health needs a lot of help, because it will help our patients and our doctors.
KHOPOTSO: What can they do better?
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: Bring the antiretrovirals yesterday, not next month or next year.
KHOPOTSO: The national Department of Health has said Limpopo is one of five other provinces in line to implement an AIDS treatment plan after Gauteng launched its own on the 1st of April. But are health services in the province ready to provide the medications?
DR ZOLA NTSHONA: Certainly, certainly’¦ Resistance is caused mostly by the fact that people drop out of treatment because they are too expensive and not available. If we are able to start the treatment and let the patient continue the treatment resistance would be minimised’¦ They are worried about the side-effects. But what can you do? If you’ve got an ulcer, like I have, I don’t take aspirin. I take Panado. There are different cocktails that we can make up, depending on the type of the virus and the toxicity of the drugs to you’¦ That’s a comfort level we cannot yet talk about even because we’re not even there yet. Let them come. Let us see Regimen 1, Regimen 2, Regimen 3. There are three regimens’¦ Let’s do that and then deal with the side-effects. We know what they are. But the drugs need to be here.
E-mail Khopotso Bodibe