Catalogue PositHiv+

Catalogue PositHiv+

An aids hospice is a place where people go to waste away and 101 die. In South Africa, where a world record 5.2 million people are infected with hiv/aids and 600 die from the disease every day, hospices are a growth industry. But the hospice I am at in Khayelitsha, a vast and dirt-poor township in the Western Cape, is a place of quiet hope, where people who had resigned themselves to painful death are being offered the chance of resurrection.

Inside the hospice an inaugural support group session is under way with a group of eight patients who have been selected to take part in antiretroviral therapy. In Africa this is a luxury. A miracle cure. Much as an organ transplant might be to a heart patient in Texas. Yet in Texas — as everywhere else in the rich world — arv treatment is routine for hiv positive people. A disease that continues to be fatal in Africa has been rendered merely chronic — and largely symptom-free — in Europe and the United States.

We are in a large room, bare save for a circle of chairs where the support group participants are sitting quietly, the silence broken only by a television in the corner showing a local soap opera to which no one pays any attention. This is an important meeting. The support group will continue to gather, on a weekly basis, for at least the first year of the treatment, maybe for the rest of these people’s lives. If the treatment is to be successful, support and solidarity are almost as important as the medication. Success, though, seems along way off for this particular bunch. Hopefully we will see some progress later, when the treatment has begun to take effect, but for now they are weak and emaciated, and their minds are not all there. These are all cases of what in the West is known as full-blown aids.