Act against Aids

“The events of recent days have forged us even more closely together as a team”

Matthias Widmaier, Administrative Director of Newlands Clinic, reports in an interview how the situation in Zimbabwe is affecting clinic operations.

What's the current situation in Harare?

The situation has eased since last Friday, and traffic seem to have been flowing normally since Wednesday. Here and there is a police checkpoint and a military presence.

How are things at the clinic?

Last week clinic services were severely reduced for two days, but the waiting room has been very full again since Monday. Since our patients know the consequences of interrupting their treatment, they make every effort to come to the clinic, even if they have to walk much of the way – in some cases between five and ten kilometres.

What are the consequences of interrupting treatment?

80% of our patients are on the standard 1st line treatment regimen.  If they don’t take their drugs reliably, they may develop resistance, and if they don't take their medication for several days at a time, their viral load will rise sharply. That means that their immune system is weakened, and they will be infectious again after around two weeks. We aim to avoid treatment being interrupted, and to ensure that our patients have enough medication. They are very well aware of this fact themselves. As part of our holistic approach to treatment, we regularly talk about the consequences of interrupting treatment.

How did you ensure that treatment continued last week?

We did what we could. We ensured that all of our departments were staffed, even if there were fewer people on duty. One important task for our staff was to call patients to find out if they had enough medication. If not, they were asked to go to the nearest public hospital. It means a great deal to our patients that our staff are always there for them, and take such good care of them. They are even more grateful at times like that.

What was, and is, difficult?

The uncertainty. It's difficult not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Zimbabweans are brave and creative people, working with whatever they have to hand at the time. They're making the best of the current situation, and getting on with things. 

What is it like for the Newlands Clinic staff?

There was never any question that safety and security would take priority. If someone couldn't come to work, we kept in close contact with each other. The staff also got together to organise transport to work, so make more careful use of resources such as petrol. The events of recent days have forged us even more closely together as a team. We take care of each other, and support from Switzerland is a big help there. A simple WhatsApp message saying “Hi, how are you?” means more now than ever. We know that, whatever comes, we have each other's backs.