A look at 17-year-old Rose, a tall, slender Ngoni girl with sleepy brown eyes, a slow sweet grin, four earrings on each ear and a butterfly prominently tattooed on her left hand, you might guess this teenager has witnessed a bit of life. And you would be right.
She has seen it all; she has been in and out of hospital her whole childhood. She has suffered from meningitis, shingles, tuberculosis you name it, taken different kinds of drugs and always wondered why she had to suffer like this.
Rose contracted HIV at birth from her mother Nyachisi, who succumbed to Aids when Rose was just five; she says she never really had a chance to get to know her mother and only got to know about her status later in life from her father whom she proudly says has been very supportive.
“My father has always been on my side when I had so many questions about why I had to suffer a punishment for a crime I did not commit,” she says.
Rose is part of the 3 000 teenage clients who receive Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) services at the makeshift Rainbow Clinic at Mzuzu Central Hospital. She has received medical care at this facility since childhood.
She says that it is at this clinic where she has received appropriate medical care, counselling, love, encouragement and proper antiretroviral drugs. “Although the room where all these services are provided is small and privacy is massively compromised, it is at this place where my care has progressed well.”
She insists that for a teenager, privacy is supreme and when it’s compromised it becomes a very thorny issue.
The makeshift Rainbow Clinic, which is currently located in a tiny room in a small courtyard near the outpatients department at the central hospital, attends to over 11 000 persons living with HIV and Aids. Yet the Rainbow Clinic was predestined to be a state-of-the-art ART clinic but has become a white elephant since construction stalled in 2008 after Malawi severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China.
Taipei had pledged to make available K112 million within that year to complete the project. But when Malawi switched to China the latter’s then Deputy Minister of Commerce, Gao Hucheng, pledged that the Chinese government would finance projects that had previously been bankrolled by the Taiwanese government.
Gao was quoted as saying that “The government of the People’s Republic of China was ready to finance the projects that were abandoned by the Taiwanese in addition to the new projects.”
Mzuzu Central Hospital Director, Rose Nyirenda, confirmed recently to Malawi News Agency (Mana) that they desperately needed to finish construction of the Clinic at a budget of over K340 million.
“We are currently revising plans for the clinic’s completion, and the costs and donors of the project, which has now lagged for six years. We have already identified the architect to do that for us so that when we approach other donors we should have proper figures for the project. We know the figures can increase threefold from old figures but we shall see,” she said.
Nyirenda said they had thought following Malawi’s new allegiance with China the new friend would finish the project but, unfortunately, the building remains to date bushy and severely damaged by rains for the past years.
“We could have engaged government to complete the clinic but the problem is that we had our own priorities to be solved at the hospital such as rehabilitating our sewage system, constructing new water tanks and maintaining the telecommunication system within the hospital premises,” she said.
Yet despite the hospital sending an SOS both in the media and at large, neither the Malawian government nor the Chinese government or any other organization have so far not shown interest.
The question being asked now is who will finish the construction of the clinic? Nyirenda feels saddened that no donors or non-governmental organisations have come forward to help fund the completion of the clinic.
Director of Political Affairs at the Chinese Embassy, Junchao Wang said in an interview that it was up to the government of Malawi to send a proposal to the Embassy, indicating the construction of the clinic as a top priority.
He said in the absence of the proposal it would not be automatic that his government would fund construction of the clinic.
Hospital spokesperson Frank Banda said in an interview that the Chinese, despite indirectly saying they would takeover projects that were previously run by the Taiwanese, maintained that they did not inherit the project, so the building remains incomplete.
He said in the absence of a Memorandum of Understanding it would not be easy to press on the Chinese government the need to finish construction of the clinic.
“We would otherwise like them to complete building so that we can reach a number of patients who desperately need ART services,” he said, adding that, “We would seriously want to transfer all the activities that are happening at the tiny room to this dream clinic facility and have all necessary offices available for the conducting of activities.”
Banda said completion of the project would end congestion at the Rainbow Clinic and allow for the installation of state-of-the-art ART equipment.