Back to the Front Line

Tuesday was World AIDS Day and instead of joining what I am sad to report has become a rather tired and tokenistic march to the city centre to hear politicians utter promises that no amount of freely distributed t-shirts will make them keep, I decided to return to one of the first community groups I was introduced to upon arriving in Zambia – Ng’ombe Home Based Care.

Ng’ombe is a sprawling shanty town or ‘compound’ in the east of Lusaka. Like the many other high density compounds that litter the city, Ng’ombe was not planned. When travel restrictions were lifted in the 1970’s people simply started arriving from the countryside in search of work and settled wherever the land was free including that which was designated for pastoral grazing – Ng’ombe meaning cow.

This lack of planning is evident 35 years later as you pick your way through the maze of dirt alleyways (on their way to becoming impassable mud filled ruts as the rains get to full strength) passing open pit latrines (soon to become potential cholera sites for the same reason) and into the network of single room walled huts. Today Ng’ombe is home to approximately 90,000 residents – almost every inhabitant living for under a $1 a day.

Cute compound kids everywhere - Zambia's incredibly high fertility rate (6 per family) plain for all to see

No power means all heating and cooking is by charcoal

No plumbing means that all water is by bucket and borehole

Before there was treatment for HIV, there was home based care. Legions of women volunteering their time and energy to visit those too sick to leave their homes. The primary goal was to provide them with the basics of hygiene and nutrition to ensure that though their deaths may have been slow and painful, they would atleast have a modicum of comfort and dignity. Thankfully access to treatment has progressed considerably in the last years and death is not so assured.

Access to treatment notwithstanding, there remain many many gaps in the service, care and support that those living with HIV and TB require. So the same ladies are still needed to volunteer each and every day to do their best with what they have to fill them. On the day I joined three volunteer carers on their rounds of their section, they were supporting 42 individuals living with HIV and a further 110 orphans and vulnerable children.

HBC Ladies on their rounds (note the sandbags to compensate for a lack of drainage)

Christopher is 40 years old. He was diagnosed with HIV a few years ago but only began treatment in October. He is  currently also receiving treatment for the TB that the virus had left his body vulnerable to. He has 4 children and a wife but they have returned to the village and left him alone in this single roomed shack. Although the treatments are working he continues to suffer from pain in his legs and finds it difficult to move. The HBC team visit him regularly to draw water, wash and cook for him. The pain makes it impossible for him to work and he lives under threat of eviction.

Christopher and carer

Beloita is 27 years old, her son John is 3. She has been HIV positive for most of her life but only began treatment 5 years ago. She has 4 children, 2 of whom are also HIV+ including John. She struggles to find enough ‘piecework’ in the local community to feed her family. When she does they get three meals in the day, when she doesn’t they must make do with one. The HBC team provide both nutritional support and school allowances for her children as well as funding essential medical care for the complications associated with her illness.

Beloita and John

Ng’ombe home based care grew up under the aegis of the Archdiocese of Lusaka. An unseen consequence of the child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church globally in the last decade is the drastic reduction in donations and offerings made to the institution. This has left needy dioceses around the world such as Lusaka without the funds  they need to continue to support operations such as Ng’ombe HBC. In January of this year the team were informed that all formal funding had ceased. They now rely solely on the contributions of well wishers.

Ng’ombe HBC require $9,000 to support over 500 individuals each year. It is not such a large sum and in a world where individuals are right to question the efficiency and effectiveness of the money they give, I can personally guarantee that every last penny that gets to the team will go directly to those who need it most desperately. As I get ready to finish my year, I am launching a fund-raising campaign – Run Losi Run – please visit the page to learn more about how you can help me to help these incredibly hard working and selfless volunteers to continue to perform countless small miracles of mercy and human kindness on a daily basis.

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  1. […] meet this amazing group of dedicated and hard working individuals I have remained convinced of the immense good that they continue to provide directly to those who need it most and I am delighted and proud to have been able to connect the […]



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