Flies were swarming her eyes. From the dank corner of her mud-brick home she groped the air, reaching out for her home based care worker. Moaning. She was barely there. Death was close.
Visiting this elderly woman, dying of AIDS, anger at the injustice of it gripped me. In that moment it wasn’t that she had AIDS that made me angry, it was the condition she was in. Her small home was dark, the air was thick with dust and smoke, flies and ants invaded all corners. She had been to the hospital many times and they continued to send her home. This woman was dying, and this is where she was. Conditions like this would cause outrage where I’m from. Yet, this is the norm here. Millions of people are dying from AIDS in filthy conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and other impoverished parts of the world.
In Canada, we have beautiful hospices. Aimed to ensure patients are comfortable, in hygienic conditions and well taken care of. We want people to die with dignity. Our healthcare system, although not perfect, is far better than the majority of the world. And if someone does spend their last days or weeks at home, that’s their choice. It is most often because home is a source of comfort for them.
But here, in slums and rural villages people are dying on dirt floors. No medical attention. Often lying in their own filth. Where is the dignity here? Why is this knowingly happening here when it would be an injustice of the highest regard if it was found out to happen in Canada? I realize this is a multi-layered issue. We are comparing apples and oranges in some ways- one of the wealthiest countries, with some of the poorest- but regardless of what country we are in we are all human. We are all of equal value. Shouldn’t we all deserve the same dignity? We shouldn’t accept a certain situation for one group when being appalled at the thought of it for another.
Things will not change overnight. Scripture even says the poor will always be with us. The world is broken and so are its systems. I’m thankful for our partners who recognize the injustice of this and do what they can to care for the sick and dying in their homes. Cleaning them, taking them to clinics, ensuring they have as much dignity as possible. What saints.
My heart breaks for that woman. Sitting here now I think about what I could have done. But, what could I have done? Maybe you reading this have a great answer and if you do, please, I’m all ears. But I was there for a short moment. Praying with her. If I took her to the doctors, they would only send her home again. It’s easy to feel helpless. I do feel helpless. But again I’m reminded of our champion partners, giving of their time. This woman will be visited again, and again and again, by her home based care worker. Her family will have the support of all home based care volunteers when she passes. She is surrounded by love and care, even in the worst situation. In that I can see heaven breaking through the darkness.
I realize my role in this situation is to pray. To pray for this precious sister. To pray for her home based care workers. And also to pray for the those in power that have control over the medical systems in Zambia and Malawi. Praying moves mountains. Although this woman is close to meeting Jesus, I trust that she feels loved through our partners. And by loving her, the stronghold of injustice in her situation is loosened.
- Amanda Geleynse, Communications Coordinator for WOW