According to the 2009 statistics from UNICEF, 5.3% of the population in Cameroon is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
On March 23, 2012, staff and volunteers at the Buea Seventh-day Adventist Health Centre teamed up with Yanine Rodriguez and Reach Out Cameroon to do free HIV screening tests in the surrounding area of Tole.
Nine people squeezed into two taxis for the 20 minute ride over roads that looked more like the crater-laden surface of the moon. Knees and elbows jabbing into the ribs of each other, the participants clung to their boxes of supplies – HIV test strips, informational handouts, waivers, cotton, alcohol, needles, recording forms, and more! Thankfully, no condoms spilled out onto the floor of the taxis!
Surprisingly unscathed, the team arrived in Tole. The village is poor in comparison to Buea standards. Most of the people cannot afford to see a doctor. In fact, most could not afford the taxi ride to a hospital. The main streets are webs of rough, rocky dirt paths along which teeter rows of wooden shacks. There is a village bar that has the only TV in the area. A few locals lounge at the tables with a beer or two, passing the day watching sports. On the doorsteps of a few of the houses, women and children squat over charcoal stoves cooking mysterious concoctions. The population consists of farmers who harvest tealeaves in the surrounding plantation. There was one crazy, elderly woman who turned up during our testing that brought a comic element to the day. Her ranting and ravings were not exactly understandable; she was definitely passionate about whatever she was yelling! The villagers were obviously used to her and tolerated her with an almost kind, ambivalence. She was simply another element in the local village tapestry.
The team traipsed after Yanine, the organizer of the event, to the predetermined location for the screenings. Upon arrival, a few of the local inhabitants were sent out to locate a table or two and some chairs. The tasks of registering, pre-counseling, record keeping, testing, and post-test counseling were divided up amongst the group. Those registering and specimen collecting-testing were given the privilege of using the two tables. The rest were content with a doorstep or stool.
The free HIV testing outreach had been agreed upon with the chief of the village a week ago. Despite the foreknowledge, most of the people that came for testing were “walk-ins". Women and men walking by on their way to visit a neighbor or coming home from the fields would see the set up and decide to do their test. The variety of people tested was immense. The ages ranged from 2 years to “too old to remember”. Young men came in groups of 3 or 4 and bowed to the peer pressure of their friends to brave the finger-poke for the HIV test. Giggling pairs of high-school girls were tested. Several families were tested together. In total, 60 people completed the HIV rapid screening test. Sadly, of the 60 people screened, seven tested positive for the virus. Several more had indeterminate results that will require a follow up test.
The percentage of positives is higher than average for Buea. In the post-test counseling with the villagers, it was determined that much more education needs to be done. Despite the fact that most everyone knows about HIV, there are many false beliefs about how HIV is transmitted, treated, and prevented among the people of Tole. This is not to imply that there has never been HIV sensitization projects in Tole. In fact, there have been quite a number of educational outreaches in the village. Rather the false assumptions are deeply rooted and held dear by people despite outside information to the contrary. The education to the people will need to be able to touch their hearts in order to effect lasting change. Only when there is a solid foundation about the prevention of HIV can the infectivity rate be reduced. Please pray for the wisdom and resources to reach Tole.