“I could not bear sitting in my lovely home while hundreds die of Aids in Zimbabwe every day.” These were the thoughts of Professor Ruedi L?thy, the eminent Swiss HIV and Aids specialist.
In Africa AIDS is the cause of an imminent humanitarian disaster. A countless number of people are already infected with HIV, millions are dying of Aids and tragically millions of children have become orphans. It is time for us to reach out to help.
Dr Ruedi L?thy was convinced that he was one who could help. His goal was to set up ambulatory Aids clinics in Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries in this world and one with a high number of Aids patients.Swiss Aids Care International was created in 2003 to support Dr Ruedi L?thy’s project. This foundation is endorsed by numerous Swiss dignitaries such as former Federal Minister Ruth Dreifuss, Dr Felix Gutzwiller, a prominent member of Parliament, as well as the famous Swiss TV presenter Kurt Aeschbacher. In addition all of them are members of the Supporting Board of this foundation.
In less than a year Dr. L?thy managed to open the first clinic in Harare and to establish care for over one thousand patients. He was also able to recruit and to train a medical staff to support him in his work at the clinic.
Ruedi L?thy reports: “Since Connaught Clinic was opened in March 2004, it has grown and expanded and today it provides comprehensive care to almost 1100 HIV infected adult and paediatric patients. A team of six adult and paediatric nurses / counsellors, two physicians are looking after the patients, in addition there are two pharmacy assistants and one volunteer who prepares the paediatric doses. Two technicians run the laboratory and the administrative tasks are carried out by one manager, an IT specialist and two receptionists. The entire staff, with the exception of the IT specialist, the pharmacy volunteer and myself is made from local people. Staff turnover has been minimal, as a matter of fact, only one nurse and one laboratory technician have had to be replaced as both or them emigrated to the UK. The team is highly motivated and provides a high standard of family centred care, which is unique for Zimbabwe. The concept of a nurse-led clinic, which was initially met with considerable scepticism from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, has been accepted. We also provide on- the-job training for nurses and doctors from peripheral hospitals on a regular basis. Once a week, nurses present difficult or illustrative cases to the entire medical team to ensure continuing medical education and uniformity of standard of care.”
It is the aim of Dr L?thy to establish his clinic as a centre of reference which will then serve as model for other sites. Most of Dr. L?thy’s patients are not able to pay for their treatment. Thus, one of the main fundraising objectives of Swiss Aids Care International is to cover the costs of such patients.
The treatment of children has become an additional task for the clinic since many of the adult patients have HIV infected sons and daughters. Unfortunately the treatment of children with AIDS and HIV-infections is complicated because drugs are typically only available in adult strength. Dr. L?thy invited Dr. Christoph Rudin, a specialist in pediatric infectiology at the University of Basle, Switzerland to his clinic. Dr. Rudin could advise the team in Harare about the care of the paediatric patients. Now about a quarter of all patients seen at the clinic are between 3 months and 18 years of age. For each of the young patients capsules have to be individually prepared with the appropriate amount of drugs. This task is performed at the clinic’s pharmacy.
The pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Switzerland supported the work of Ruedi L?thy’s in the first three years and most importantly it helped to promote his project. The collaboration between the company and Swiss Aids Care International was the centre piece of GSK’s local community partnership programme. Dr Eric Bandle, Director of Communication said: “As a principle such programmes run for three or more years and provide funds and human resources to support the project. We prefer to concentrate our efforts to one worthwhile project rather than paying small amounts to many charities each year. In this way, our support creates a lasting impact which is understood by our employees and which is highly motivating to all involved.”
Thus, GSK helped in the production and distribution of brochures about Dr. L?thy’s work at the clinic, created visual aids for conventions and had employees presenting the project at doctor’s meetings and other venues. A few months ago Dr L?thy approached GSK with the idea of how to help his patients create some income for themselves. In a country where transportation is difficult somebody with a bicycle could become a courier, somebody with a sewing machine could earn some money mending clothes or making new ones. The staff of GSK and of Galenica, a company who recently also joined in the support of Dr. L?thy’s clinic were enthusiastic to help with this suggestion.
Over a few weeks they collected bikes and sewing machines and in addition clothes and toys. Last August a standard 20ft container left GSK, Switzerland with 20 bicycles, 10 sewing machines, 95 boxes of clothes and 30 boxes of toys. Since then it has safely arrived in Harare and is currently undergoing customs clearance. It should be soon delivered to the clinic to be distributed to those in need. In this way the employees of GSK in Switzerland could reach out to help too.
GSK believes that the fight against Aids in the poorest countries of this world can only be won through mobilization of all resources and through a new spirit of partnership. Eric Bandle concluded: “The collaboration between Swiss Aids Care International and GSK Switzerland helped us to comprehend the plight of humans affected by this terrible disease and showed us, that even small efforts can make a difference.”
You, too, can help the work of Dr. Ruedi L?thy. Your contribution will have an immediate impact. Not only does it express your concern for the deprived but also shows your willingness to reach out to those in need of our help. Dr Ruedi L?thy estimates that he will be able to provide care for each adult patient at a cost of CHF 600 per year. The complexity in paediatric care is reflected in a higher average yearly cost of CHF 1500 per child.
For more information on Swiss Aids Care International and on Dr L?thy’s clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe please, visit the websitewww.swissaidscare.ch.