Denial (Moz)

Hannah Chung from Welspring Church in San Francisico, has been volunteering with Hands at Work since August 2008, serving in Mozambique.

Last Friday was my first experience in encountering something so real but so… sad.

Tuesdays and Fridays, I go on home-based care in a community called Nhambia. The people in this community live relatively far from each other and grow their own maize in their mashambas (fields). If a bicycle or money to catch a shapa (local taxi) isn’t available, people must walk tens of kilometers to visit a market to obtain anything else.

A home-based care visit in Nhambia with a volunteer named Marcelino led us to the home of a thin and gaunt middle-aged lady. She greeted us, bringing us a mat to sit down on. She talked a little, but didn't say much; it was apparent that she was very sick. Every word was interrupted by what seemed like a chronic cough.

"Is she positive?" I asked.

“We don't know,” Marcelino said. “She didn't get tested.”

"Did you go to the hospital?" Marcelino asked her.

No, she said. No money for transport. A ride to the hospital costs 12 meticais. Less than 50 cents.

I wanted to give her something, but realized I didn't have the change on me. We decided to take her to the hospital after Marcelino and I finished our visits to the other homes.

In the afternoon, we drove her to the hospital in Gondola, another community that is somewhat more developed. She was immediately tested for HIV. Positive. The doctor also conjectured that her cough was most likely tuberculosis – not surprising seeing that she was HIV-positive.

The doctor was about to give her ARV's (medication for her HIV) and the protocol to test for tuberculosis until the lady told Marcelino and the doctor that she will not take ARV's.

She explained that there was no way that she could be positive. Her husband didn't die of HIV/AIDS. How could she have HIV? She refused to take the medication even though the results clearly showed that she was positive, even though the medication was free.

We sat her down and told her that her cough won't heal properly if she doesn't take the HIV medication. We told her she would remain sick and eventually die of illness caused by AIDS. We told her we can't help her if she doesn't try to help herself. Nothing worked. She wouldn't listen. She went home only with the tuberculosis-testing kit.

'So, are you just going to… die?' I couldn't help thinking to myself.

Another patient died the same way, Marcelino said. Marcelino had been visiting this patient regularly, but he passed away last Tuesday. I remembered I had also seen this patient a couple of times; I had driven him to the hospital once only a couple of weeks before. He's dead.

Coming back from this trip, I couldn't help but feel a little saddened, helpless, and confused. What can we do to make her understand that she will die quickly and painfully if she doesn't take this medication? What can we do to change her mind?

As these thoughts rushed through my mind, another volunteer simply said,

"It's just like the gospel."

We can try to prove and persuade that this gospel we hold is truth, but in the end, it is up to the people to decide to believe it or not.

"...Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make their heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
-Isaiah 6:9-10