This post is dedicated to Raymond. I was honoured to meet Raymond. If I had to make a list of all the people in Tanzania who helped me realize how lucky I am, Raymond would be the first one on the list.
On my first day in Paeds ward, I was made aware of this one child lying down in a bed right at the end of the room, ‘isolated’ from the rest.
He had the look of a person currently on the highway to death: tired face with wrinkles, eyes bulging out, cheeks sucked in and an anorexic body, devoid of any life.
Raymond is only 10.
Raymond has AIDS.
Raymond is an orphan.
Raymond contracted HIV through his mother during either pregnancy, or delivery or breastfeeding. Both his parents died of AIDS and his aunt is his current carer. Raymond’s HIV infection progressed to AIDS due to a poor diagnosis and lack of treatment. When he was eventually diagnosed with AIDS he was put on treatment which he did not want to take due to suffering of really serious side effects – this is also the reason why he keeps visiting the hospital every 2-3 weeks with a new infection.
In the time I was there he was suffering of both tuberculosis and bacterial meningitis.
I watched him have a cannula fitted on his head, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have never heard a child scream like this before. Over the next couple of days I observed him sitting on his bed. He seemed restless and fed up. I was scared to go play with him because he can be violent and irritable, so I instead tried to wink and smile at him as an effort to make him feel included and make me feel less guilty. He never smiled back.
I decided to go buy him a present, perhaps which, would lighten up his day. I got him this beautiful tribal small elephant made of wood and painted with turquoise and white dye. I went in the next day looking for him, but his bed was empty and he was not in the ward – Raymond was gone. I panicked that he died, but according to the ward nurse he was transferred to a bigger hospital to receive better care.
With no second thoughts, I got the Dala Dala and went to KCMC, the hospital I was told he was in. I wanted to cry when I realised I wouldn’t be able to track him down in 3 huge Paeds wards crowded with hundreds of children. After searching for a long time I decided to leave, and as I was walking down the corridor I saw a room labelled as ‘Isolation’.
I walked in. And there he was.
Raymond was sitting on his bed staring out the window. He then turned and looked at me and gave me the brightest and biggest smile ever. He asked how I found him and I had someone explaine to him the story in Kiswahili. I handed over the elephant, which he did not believe was for him and asked him to keep it for good luck.
And then it hit me how ridiculous I was being speaking about luck to a 10 year old suffering of terminal AIDS.
I left knowing I wasn’t seeing him again. I knew he would probably die and to be honest wishing that he stayed alive would be me wishing for the lesser of two evils; his life has been, is and will be a life in hospitals, pain and sickness, with no parents and no understanding of WHY that is.
This is the unfortunate reality; if I were to contract HIV in the developed world, I would have access to treatment, chances are I would never develop AIDS, would have a normal life expectancy and be able to have a family. This is not the case, however, for people in the developing world. Despite the fact that the total number of people living with HIV in Tanzania has declined from 7% to 5.1% from 2003/4 to 2011/12, only 37.5% of sufferers have access to treatment. According to the doctors, the government claims to pay for the medication but in actuality it does not (and just to give you an idea, good quality HIV medication in the UK costs around £600 per pack per month), let alone the fact that a lot of people do not know they are HIV positive and even if they are, I would imagine a lot of them do not have access to healthcare in order to receive treatment and be educated about what living with HIV/AIDS entails.