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BULAWAYO, 28 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Near a dumpsite on the outskirts of Gwanda, some 130 km south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, Mtshumayeli Ndebele, 45, helps his visibly ailing spouse, Sithandekile, draw closer to a smouldering fire.
The couple are among a dozen people offloaded at the site by police when they closed down the Hellensvale transit camp. The holding camp, set up by a coalition of humanitarian and human rights NGOs about 40 km north of Bulawayo, had provided shelter to hundreds of families left homeless after the government's controversial crackdown on informal settlements and markets in urban areas.
Mtshumayeli and his wife said the authorities instructed them to find their own way to their rural home area.
But the Ndebeles do not have a rural homestead to return to and, to make matters worse, they are both HIV positive: eviction from their home has forced them to abandon their antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
"We would get drugs every month from Mpilo hospital, and everything just looked better for us, but we are no longer able to do that because we have moved; we are now several kilometres away and have no money for transport to go and get our consignment," Mtshumayeli told IRIN. "Now, it's like we are just waiting to die."
Pointing to his wife he said, "She says she feels pains all over her body, and she has not had decent sleep in the past four days that we have spent here."
Scores of HIV/AIDS patients whose treatment programmes have been disrupted find themselves in a similar plight after being forcibly relocated to parts of rural Zimbabwe.
Health experts warn that most of them will certainly die prematurely because of the lack of AIDS drugs and inadequate food in the countryside.
According to official figures, Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of HIV infection, with over 4,500 deaths recorded every week. Estimates indicate that while almost 21 percent of Zimbabwe's 11 million people are HIV-positive, only 6,000 receive ARVs.
Moreover, the country is grappling with widespread food shortages and ongoing drought conditions have slashed agricultural output by 50 percent. Humanitarian organisations have said up to 4 million people, mostly in the rural areas, will be in need of food aid this year.
This week church groups and NGOs said they had managed to track down some of the HIV/AIDS patients and plans were underway to ensure that they received food, ARVs and support in their new communities.
"We are deeply concerned about the plight of these people, particularly those with HIV/AIDS," said Pastor Albert Chatindo. "Simple drugs are not available in rural clinics, let alone ARVs. We have, however, agreed to assist them with food, and doctors within the church community have also volunteered to visit them to assess their conditions. We will also be giving them drugs if we manage to source some."
Chatindo said churches in Bulawayo were already feeding hundreds of people who had been transferred from the Hellensvale transit camp and abandoned in various districts in rural Matabeleland, a vast region in southwestern Zimbabwe.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) spokesperson Vickey Hawkins said although the medical NGO was prepared to provide HIV treatment to the displaced, tracking them down was not an easy task.
"The problem is that we don't know where to find the people who need help, since they are now scattered all over the country. But we have adopted those who were resettled in Tsholotsho (northern Matabeleland) and they are getting treatment," said Hawkins.
She noted that MSF had started a programme to tackle HIV opportunistic infections at Hellensvale camp, but this had come to an abrupt halt when the government announced the official closure of all transit camps in the country.
Officials at Mpilo hospital told IRIN that many of the 1,300 patients on their treatment list had not reported for medical check-ups in the past few weeks.
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