Lockdown: Zim immigrants struggle to access ARVs in SA

Some Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa who are on Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) are reportedly defaulting on their medication, as they cannot access the life-prolonging drugs in that country’s health facilities due to the national lockdown.

Most illegal immigrants usually rely on relatives back home to send them ARVs via cross border commuters (omalayitsha).

But due to the lockdown imposed in the region to curb the spread of the Coronavirus that has seen borders closed, omalayitsha stopped moving and Zimbabweans in South Africa are failing to access their medication.

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Nicholas Ngqabutho Mabhena, told CITE this challenge has resulted in concerns that such treatment interruptions would have a serious negative impact on the individuals` health.

“We have a challenge that has been brought to our attention. There are people on ARVs in Johannesburg, most of these migrants are not documented, they don’t have permits or asylum documents and cannot access medication in South African clinics,” he confirmed.

Mabhena said some Zimbabwean immigrants normally rely on their relatives back home in Zimbabwe to send them their medication.

“Their relatives would go and take ARVs for them but now the border is closed and no one is moving. So this is crisis that we are faced with now. But we are trying to speak to those who have permits to go to South African clinics and seek help. Since there are different types of ARVs, we have asked Zimbabweans to talk to nurses back home or make contact to ask for advice on what to take as health workers will understand the types,” he noted.

The chairperson underscored that defaulting on any medication was a serious challenge that had dire consequences for patients.

“This is the current challenge we have now and are seized with how we can solve it,” Mabhena said.

Reached for comment, National Aids Council (NAC) Bulawayo Provincial Manager, Sinatra Nyathi, concurred this was serious issue, as defaulting was a danger to the patients.

She explained ART treatment was aimed to stem further spread of AIDS as well as prolong lives of those infected.

“In defaulting, one’s viral load increases and multiplies in the body, which leads one to move from being HIV positive and develop into full-blown AIDS faster. This also increases their danger to the next person,” she said.

“With treatment, the infection is suppressed and is reduced. But when one defaults, one not only becomes a danger to themselves but to their sexual partner as well.”

Nyathi noted efforts were in place to talk to same organisations in South Africa but this was subdued due to the lockdown.

“We encourage people to go to their nearest facility in South Africa and we also appeal to those clinics to understand that we are in a pandemic. People would not harass them in normal situations but they must serve them with ARVs. We don’t know if they will understand our pleas but they must,” she said.

She added that such challenges required the intervention of both countries’ governments  to deal with the matter.

“This should be a government to government dialogue and intervention, as there are different foreigners in different countries who have various issues and challenges that need to be met by hosting governments,” Nyathi said.

Zimbabweans, both documented and undocumented, make up a large number of immigrants in South Africa.

Some of the immigrants are reportedly on the verge of starvation after their incomes were heavily affected by the lockdown in that country.

The lockdown left most Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa in a lurch as they are unable to make money due to the closure of most businesses.
Most migrants in South Africa earn income through domestic work and in the services sector like restaurants and fuel stations.

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