Thursday 23 September 2010

Philanjalo - live longer

The countryside is dry, dry, dry. There are rocks, dried aloes, and dry earth. There is no grass to speak of – what there is has been turned to stubble by the goats. No rain has fallen since April this year. The streams and rivers are collections of boulders – there is no sign of water. All my photographs have a haze –a dust haze that coats the landscape. The sky will only clear when rain has washed the sky.

Tugela Ferry mountains
I spent last weekend in Tugela Ferry in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, one of the poorest regions in the whole of South Africa.
Along the road we pass children with 20 litre containers of water on their heads or in wheelbarrows - if they’re lucky.  They get water from pumps at the roadside and then have to transport it back to their homes often kilometers away. We are greeted with smiles and friendly waves – so cheerful in spite of extreme poverty.
Carrying water home
My contact there, a doctor working at Philanjalo, showed us around. Philanjalo – meaning live longer - was started as a hospice for aids patients.The local people have a very high incidence of MDR TB – multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis and XDR TB, coupled with an HIV AIDs infection rate of about 50%, making it exceptionally difficult to treat the disease.
With the outbreak of the TB epidemic TFCARES set up the clinic as a research station.Doctors from all over the world come to Tugela Ferry to do research into MDR TB and XDR TB.
Now the emphasis at the clinic is on ARV treatment - treating the side effects of HIV Aids. I was struck by how clean and efficient everything was – and the cheerfulness of both patients and staff in spite of the enormity of the problems faced. Philanjalo works in conjunction with the Church of Scotland Hospital and provides both clinic and home based care as well as care for children left orphaned by the HIV aids epidemic.

On Saturday a trip to Msinga Hill was proposed. Oh dear, I thought, not mountain climbing!
Not at all - there is a road to the very top. The purpose of the road  became all too clear with the incongruous presence of a cell phone mast. 
Msinga Hill Rocks
From the top of Msinga Hill we could see patches of green along the Tugela River – the lifeblood of the area. Here plots of land are allocated by the Chief of the Msinga area to the local inhabitants. They have created community gardens planted with mealies, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes that flourish on water pumped from the river. The produce is sold at the market in town.
Community Gardens along the Tugela River
Violent inter- faction fighting previously wracked Tugela Ferry.  However, life now seems more peaceful – perhaps fighting poverty, MDR TB and HIV Aids is enough of a challenge for the people of this village.
To give you an idea of the value of the work done by these marvellous doctors and nurses, I quote from an email I received from the doctor we visited:
“The patient that I had to treat yesterday and who I thought would die, when I saw him today, is sitting up in bed, eating and chatting to his relatives.   Miracle”

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