Surviving chronic illness during a pandemic

Source: Surviving chronic illness during a pandemic | Sunday Mail (Extra)

Tendai Chara and Veronica Gwaze

AFTER Fungai Munyedzi discovered he had ulcerative colitis in 2014, his family went all out to fight this rare chronic disease.

Pooling together resources, they made sure that the father of two, who is a waiter by profession, got the necessary treatment and was put on the recommended diet (made up of mostly vegetables and fruits).

Then came the coronavirus!

“To me, the advent of the coronavirus is more like a death sentence. The majority of the family members that used to provide me with money to buy the life-saving drugs that I use every day are no longer capable of doing so since their sources of income have been affected by the lockdown,” said Munyedzi.

Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract.

It affects the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum.

A serious, debilitating disease without a known cure, ulcerative colitis causes life-threatening complications such as severe rectal bleeding.

Treatment, which is expensive, can greatly reduce signs and symptoms of the disease and bring about long-term remission.

The Covid-19 pandemic has overwhelmed healthcare systems in most countries, Zimbabwe included. As a result, attention and resources have been applied more to control the novel disease.

Naturally, patients like Munyedzi who are battling chronic diseases are getting the short end of the stick.  Depending on the severity of the inflammation, he is expected to go for check-up at least after every two weeks.

Transport challenges are also compounding his woes.

“I am alive by the grace of God. It is a miracle that I am getting these drugs under these harsh economic conditions. I am a waiter but currently unemployed. I am grateful to my wife and family members who are meeting these costs. Otherwise, I would have been long gone by now,” he said.

“Those that are paying for my drugs are being strained by the effects of the pandemic. I wish this coronavirus would just vanish from the face of the earth. When the inflammation of the colon is severe, I pass out watery and bloodied stool six times a day, resulting in severe dehydration. My skin, joints and eyes become severely inflamed in the process.”

He has to contend with frequent abdominal pain and cramping, rectal pain and the urgency to defecate.

“As you can see, I am wasted after losing weight. I always have this terrible fever and fatigue. Without the drugs, I would not last a week,” he added.

For him to live, he requires a combination of expensive drugs.  The family spends more than US$500 every month on medication.

Drugs such as Asacol — the most essential drug — and salazopyrin, are the drugs he cannot do without, but are very expensive.

Dr Leolin Katsidzira, a physician who works closely with ulcerative colitis patients, described the disease as “complex”.

“This is a disease which not many people know about. We have instances in which patients spend many years hopping from one doctor to another without being given the proper diagnosis.

“An awareness campaign should be done to explain the disease,” Dr Katsidzira said.

However, HIV/Aids patients continue to effortlessly access their drugs despite the lockdown, according to family health director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Bernard Madzima, who is the National Aids Council (NAC) chief executive officer.

“They do not have to travel long distances. Instead, they collect the antiretroviral drugs from facilities close to them. The medication they get after presenting their prescription is known as the visitors pack and is a two months’ supply,” said Dr Madzima.

“So far there are no challenges. We have adequate supply at the dotted facilities, and besides, their points of collection are detached from hospital wards and other outpatients’ areas.

“Basically, they are not affected by Covid-19 issues; they simply need to comply with other regulations like social distancing, masking up and sanitising to keep the virus at bay when they collect their medicines.”

Tapiwa, an HIV patient said his life had not been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

“I use my prescription at security checkpoints if need be. I have since moved to Chitungwiza from Southerton but I am not facing any challenges. The switch from Sally Mugabe Central Hospital to Chitungwiza Hospital was smooth,” he said.

“I get enough supply for at least two months so that I minimise movement. Besides, we have our own section and special attention each time we visit the hospital(s).”

“The lockdown has affected us just like everyone else with regards to work and random movements. However, when we visit clinics or hospitals for medical attention, we are still getting the same service,” said Marondera-based Mai Nyaradzo, who has been on ARV treatment for the past two years.