Mothers and Children Living with HIV and Aids in Bohlabela

It did not take little Zenobia Mathebula who is not yet three, ten minutes to adopt her new fluffy baby bear and have him bouncing on her back as she hummed a song soothing him to sleep. She and about 30 other HIV and Aids mothers and children received unexpected, but precious gifts, as a generous donation found its way to the Rixile Wellness Clinic and Peer Support Group, just before Christmas.

The Clinic is based at the Tintswalo Hospital in Acornhoek, near Klaserie.
Dave and Veronica Corlett brought toys and clothes donated and in some cases, specifically knitted or made by the residents of a small village, Almondsbury, near Bristol, in England. Getting them to South Africa was facilitated by Lion-Walk Tours, a company that has been associated with the Kruger National Park for many years. Ann de Bruyn handed over toys collected from the children of  Southern Cross Schools and the Beares Group in Hoedspruit.

The clinic operates four days a week, providing comprehensive care to people infected with HIV and Aids. It started in 1999 as a World Health Organisation and Department of Health Initiative called ProTEST. The Rural Aids and Development Action Research Programme (Radar) of the Wits School of Public Health introduced rapid HIV tests into clinics in the district. These tests give an HIV test result within 15 minutes. Rixile, the dedicated wellness clinic, was established in 1999, and is jointly run by Tintswalo hospital, Radar and the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

Rixile clinic offers a comprehensive HIV wellness package that includes clinical, psychological and social components. Patients that test positive at the hospital are referred to the clinic where they are screened and treated for tuberculosis, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases,  opportunistic infections and cervical cancer. Contraception and condom use are also discussed with patients. 

All patients are monitored for CD4 counts, which indicates the level of illness. A count below 200 shows the patient is susceptible to more opportunistic infections and other symptoms associated with Aids. The CD4 count is repeated six monthly. Non-clinical interventions include peer support groups with emphasis on information sharing, education and counselling. The clinic also undertakes outreach activities and provides social assistance by facilitating appropriate social grants and nutritional support where possible.

Rixile has started a dedicated Antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinic that offers a treatment literacy programme to all patients wanting to know more about ART. It also treats patients that can afford to buy the medicines for themselves. Treatment currently costs between R400 and R500 a month. At present approximately 300 patients need ART. This is only available in the nearby regional hospital, Mapulaneng.

The government has committed itself to make medication available free of charge and are implementing the program. Patients attending the Rixile clinic are hoping that medication will become available before April next year. Since 2003 the clinic has had 4 414 patients visit the programme and at the end of September 2004, 1050 patients were attending the clinic on a regular basis. The staff at the clinic sees about 32 patients a day.

In the last 2 years approximately 4 000 HIV tests were done at the hospital of which 64 percent were positive. This is an increase from the 50 percent that were positive during 1999-2002. Most of these tests are done on patients suspected of having HIV. In the Antenatal Care, 25 percent of women tested positive. This is an increase of 22 percent from the preceding years.

Radar and HIVSA, a Soweto based NGO, have started HIV support groups at 44 clinics in the Bohlabela district as part of the Ha Swikota (We Can) project, since October 2003. 139 community volunteers have been trained as field workers and support group facilitators. Any person testing HIV positive can attend his/her local clinic to get support and information to help him/her cope with living with HIV.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari