By Rose Chipumphula, Contributor:
Despite the provision of free antiretroviral therapy (ART) services in the country, some people continue to disregard the advice of medical personnel.
In the latest incident, The Daily Times has learned that Balaka is one of the districts dogged by the problem.
Balaka District Hospital Principal Clinical Officer, Dickson Mambulu, said the number of ART defaulters has hit 2,500 from June 2017 to July 2018.
He told participants at a meeting which Development Communication Trust (DCT) organised in the district that one of the factors fuelling the problem are religious leaders who discourage followers who are eligible for antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to stop taking them.
“Two thousand and five hundred defaulters is considered as a high number and we are following up on people to convince them to come back to the hospital and start getting treatment because defaulting on ART has consequences on one’s health and the community. A patient cannot participate in development activities because of sickness,” he said.
The clinician said, apart from compromising the health of the defaulter, absconding drugs also increases the risk of drug resistance.
One of the participants, Mary, who was told to stop taking ARVs by a pastor, said she almost died.
“I started taking ARVs in 2006 but, in 2011, I approached a pastor on marriage issues. He told me that he could not help me on marriage issues unless I stopped taking ARVs because he knew that I was on treatment,” she said.
Pastor Solomon Banda said it is worrisome that some pastors are in the forefront of discouraging people from taking life-prolonging drugs.
DCT Project Coordinator, Zione Mayaya, said the organisation uses radio listening clubs to enhance citizen participation in demanding universal health coverage through transparency and accountability processes.
She said, through radio listening clubs, members discuss problems they face in the health sector, which culminates in the provision of improved services.
The programme seeks to increase access to health services among marginalised groups.
The project is being implemented in three health centres of Phimbi, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkaya, Chiendausiku, T/A Msamala, and Namanolo, T/A Kalembo, in Balaka District.