Christine du Preez, founder of the award-winning HIV and AIDS treatment programme Hlokomela, spoke to Azania Mosaka about how COVID-19 is affecting the health of people living in Hoedspruit.
Christine du Preez, nursing sister and founder of Hlokomela, recently spoke to Azania Mosaka about the impact COVID-19 is having on farmworkers and members of the Hoedspruit community.
“It’s a huge impact. The Hoedspruit area is almost 100% farmworkers. Suddenly there are no tourists in our area. All the lodge workers went home because everything was locked down. Yet there are still some farmworkers that are working because the production of citrus must go on.”
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“People are hungry. People don’t have food”
Hlokomela is an award-winning HIV and AIDS education and treatment programme, which in recent years has added breast cancer prevention and primary healthcare services to its mandate. Now, the organisation is also combating COVID-19.
“Suddenly the game has changed and the problem is we don’t have funding for COVID-19,” Christine explains. “I went to my Hoedspruit community and said people are hungry. People don’t have food and that is a huge problem in our area. The Hoedspruit community came together and already we’ve given 300 food parcels to some of the farmworkers and community workers who don’t have jobs.”
“Remember, people still need to get their chronic medicine, they have their day-to-day ailments, and that is when they come to the clinics,” she explains. “But the huge problem we have now is when they come to the clinic or talk to us, they say: ‘Our families don’t have food’. So, I think food is going to be a bigger problem for us than the virus.”
“We have challenges but we have a wonderful community that’s helping us,” she adds.
Nompilos are at the forefront of fighting COVID-19
Since its inception, Hlokomela has enlisted the help of nompilos or peer caregivers to test for HIV, dispense medicine and raise awareness. Today, Hlokomela has 82 nompilos who receive regular training to help them with their work.
“I must tell you, with this virus our nompilos are the forefront people to help us with screening,” Christine emphasises. “Every day the nompilos come to Hlokomela and we take them to farms where they screen all the people on the farm. At the end of the day they come back to Hlokomela and then we give the data to the Department of Health.”
Christine says the nompilos find the work incredibly rewarding. “They are very proud that they have the opportunity to be caregivers and to do something good. They all just love what they’re doing.”
Hlokomela started preparing for the COVID-19 virus early
Four weeks ago, Hlokomela started preparing by setting up a wash bay for all patients to wash their hands and undergo initial screening before entering the clinic. They set up a mobile room where they can send people with symptoms of COVID-19 to get more tests, and enlisted the help of nompilos to educate people in Hoedspruit on washing their hands and maintaining physical distancing. Hlokomela’s sewing project made 5 500 buffs to protect farmworkers as masks are too expensive.
“We are lucky that we don’t feel the virus here yet, but if we read about Joburg and the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, we realise it’s coming for us,” Christine says. “In the last three days we did about 700 screenings and there was not one person with symptoms.”
Watch the video to see Hlokomela’s efforts to contain the virus.
“We cannot forget about HIV and TB”
Christine has faced a pandemic before, back in 1990 when she realised farmworkers were dying. “My feeling is, this is the same,” she says. “Back then I didn’t know what was happening, why people were dying, and that was from AIDS. It took people about 7 to 10 years before they died, but with this virus, it’s 5 or 6 or 14 days. Back then it was years but now we are at days where you can die from a virus.”
“Those years I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and now I still don’t know what I don’t know about COVID-19,” she reflects. “And we cannot forget about HIV and TB. We don’t know what an effect this virus is going to have on our patients with HIV and TB.”
What to do? “We must just keep our people safe and keep being on the forefront and do what we need to do,” Christine asserts. “All community members must come together and help each other – you won’t get through this alone. NGOs must get help and work together. We always have our funders. I mean, Discovery is still in contact with us all the time, supporting us.”
“The world is changing and it’s a world I don’t know,” Christine concludes. “It’s challenging but I think it will be lovely if we get through this and something good comes out of it.”
Listen to Christine’s podcast to find out more about Hlokomela. Also listen to more of our COVID-19 podcasts for added insights into managing your life in the context of COVID-19. Stay informed. Stay healthy.
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