Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity which helps poor people (mostly women) set up their own small businesses. Today she updated me on what has happened to some of the people at a clinic mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago.
The lady with the strange brown creeping growth across her corneas has a collection of antibiotic and antifungal eyedrops and the man with the pus-extruding eye socket has some turbo-charged antibiotics. But it is the ladies with ‘pain’ who are at the front of the queue.
Something wonderful happens here. Really REALLY wonderful.
As I get out the car, I am grabbed from behind. We need David to pick up Zetta and Neil at the airport and I am not shelling out £25 for just that, so we have the luxury of the car all day. The person who grabs me from behind is the little 82-year-old shosho with the 12 grandkids. She is beaming, positively bouncing. She pulls me over to the side of the road and there, resplendent in the sunshine, is her new business: a whole sack of sweet potatoes set out in neat piles of three on the ground.
Across the road is the other shosho with the legs like twin Jimmy Krankies. She appears to have perked up with the cod liver oil, Vitamin E, garlic and lecithin. She is out doing business for the first time in a while. But still has no shoes. I go off and do battle with a bloke for a pair of boat-like sandals with Velcro straps that I hope will go over her massively swollen feet. They do !! They are a little Birkenstock-like but I don’t tell the shosho she now looks like a lesbian.
Josephine has turned up to get her antibiotics (throat and glands) and her acyclovir (shingles). But I want her to come and meet my friend Janet Ogindo. Josephine only got her HIV diagnosis at our clinic on Wednesday and I want her to talk to someone who can reassure her and advise her. Plus her CD4 count is 234 and I don’t want to take her to a bog standard HIV clinic as they will just bang her full of ARVs – antiretrovirals – right away.
We take her over to Ngando and spend a totally wonderful hour or so with Janet and Joanne. Janet has borderline liver failure now, after ten years on ARVs. Her CD4 count is good, her viral load is undetectable. All that is killing her now is the sheer toxicity of the drugs. So, like increasing numbers of people over here, she is considering a Drug Holiday.
Joanne already has changed her regimen and takes one month off every three. And feels much better. We all know other people who have either stopped completely, take one month on, one month off or take the drugs only when they have a flare up. All of them seem to be doing very well.
There are support groups for people who want to do this, as doctors cannot – and generally will not – openly condone it. It does seem to depend on what strain of the virus you have. But I give Janet a huge bag of vitamins and supplements, arrange a supply of beetroot juice and tell her we know where she can get really good nettle tea. She is now a really dear friend and I don’t want to lose her to drug toxicity.