Yesterday I visited Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. The organization has been caring for people living with HIV and AIDS in the impoverished areas surrounding Hillcrest for the last 17 years. Based in the wealthy suburb of Hillcrest, the Centre is able to generate a sustainable source of income through sales of beadwork and other handicrafts, as well as through selling plants at their nursery and sales of second-hand clothing. The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been funding Hillcrest’s incredible work for the last five years – most recently, our support has included salaries for nursing staff and providing stipends for caregivers at the Respite Unit and in rural communities.
I met with Hillcrest staff to discuss Stephen’s upcoming visit and then spent some time meeting with Hillcrest’s beadworkers and with nurses and volunteers at the Respite Unit. We’ll be returning to Hillcrest later in the week to film feature stories of some of the inspiring women involved with the Centre.
Hillcrest’s Respite Unit opened in February 2006 to “provide a home away from home for those patients who do not have a primary caregiver at home, who are bedridden, and for symptom control.” The centre began with just six beds, but today the ward has 24 spaces for HIV-positive clients. The Respite Unit is a bustling hub of activity, with fourteen permanent caregivers on the ward, and a large network of home-based caregivers who refer clients from their communities. Four registered nurses see an average of 70–100 clients a month through home visits and some 250 clients a month at the Centre. They assess clients’ health status, supervise home-based care workers and provide medication, counselling and testing to HIV-positive clients.
I arrived at the respite unit just in time for a birthday party – Siyabonga, a boy who was recently admitted to the centre, was turning 15. The staff sang and handed out pieces of chocolate cake. Sadly, Siyabonga wasn’t able to partake in the cake – at the moment he is drastically underweight and barely able to eat. Apparently the respite unit doesn’t often take children into their care, but he was an exception to the rule. Everyone is hoping for a miraculous recovery.
But even though there are often miraculous moments at Hillcrest – stories of people being nursed back to health after having CD4 counts of only 3 or 4 – there are difficult moments as well. Last week, three patients died in a single night – a particularly devastating loss for the unit, which treats everyone as though they were part of the family. As I stood talking with one of the nurses on the ward, another patient passed away. The caregivers pulled the curtains around each of the beds, and gently moved the person’s body to the small chapel outside the ward.
I spoke with a few volunteers as the on-duty ward coordinators (Sphe and Gugu) and nurses (Mary Ann, Mette and Cwengi) tended to the patients. They explained that everyone who works at Hillcrest is trained to treat patients as though they were being cared for in their homes. Everyone receives loving attention and a personal touch. In fact, it’s a policy that all caregivers at Hillcrest must first spend two days and one night on the ward so that they can understand what it’s like to be a patient. It’s a really remarkable place.
On Sunday, we’re going to visit the home of Maria, an elderly gogo who lives in Molweni, a village in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. I had the pleasure of meeting with her at the Centre and am very much looking forward to seeing her and her grandson at her home. More to come.
– By Gillian Mathurin, SLF Communications Officer