When Covid-19 spiked and prevention measures were put into place, community activist Lúcia Gomes was forced into exchanging home visits to patients with phone calls.
Somehow, the exclusively by-phone communication undermined the level of trust and the friendship bond between the activists and people living with HIV.
“Covid-19 has the peculiarity of decreasing contacts with patients and it is difficult for people to open up. We had to adapt. Now we speak via the cell phone and there are facts that we do not notice through a cell phone conversation”, complained Lúcia Gomes, after a cell phone conversation with a patient.
Through telephone communication – which is characterized by the distance between the actors in the communicative process – there are feelings and expressions that Lúcia Gomes is unable to transmit or receive.
In the past, when the meetings were in person, it was possible to perceive despair, the expression of relief, and she would look into their eyes when they realised that contracting HIV did not mean the end of life, she says.
“I would also like to see the patients’ expression of happiness, when they found that their viral load showed signs of improvement ”, she adds.
The display of emotions by people with HIV, according to the member of Pfuka Uhanya association, contributed, in a great way, for the activists to take more correct measures.
“I knew, depending on the person’s condition, that I should be more careful and dedicate myself more ”, she says.
On the one hand, she adds that the face-to-face meetings were good, insofar as they made it possible to realise that, “unfortunately, some people, out of fear, lie. They provide a wrong home address and so many other things. Sometimes, it is possible to notice this when we talk”, says the activist, adding that physical contact was very important.
“Today, with Covid-19, it is difficult. Except in extreme cases, we are obliged to visit the patient”, explains, while searching, in her list of patients, a contact to call a patient on the phone.
On the other end of the line, a female voice, which manifests itself calmly, answers the cell phone and, throughout the conversation, reveals that “to this day, I cannot tell my partner about my condition and this has contributed for to stopping taking medication, because I still hide my condition.”
Gomes hides the patient’s identity from the Observatório do Cidadão para Saúde (OCS), but guarantees that, in this case, she will have to make an appointment with her for further advice.
“One of the most complicated things is for the person to open up to the partner. When she doesn’t open up, the only solution has been to stop medicating”, Gomes explains.
The activist says that with distancing and prohibitions, she feared a tragic end to her activities. At the time, in 2020 – when the first case of Covid-19 was identified in Mozambique – she imagined patients getting depressed and, even worse, abandoning treatment.
“Today [Monday] we speak to patients who are on the second line. These have a high viral load. This patient [with whom she was talking on her cell phone] is getting worse.”
Like thousands of citizens and activists, during her journey as an activist, Lúcia Gomes had never seen anything like this and, of course, she thought that “it would mess up our activities. We feared that we would not retain the patients.”
Although the association has managed to adapt and reinvent itself, Gomes regrets the existence of limitations due to the pandemic, stating that the work does not proceed properly, as in the previous days. Being an activist, in the days before covid-19, went beyond the simple fact of advising patients on the need to continue treatment.
“It’s much more than that. We became like relatives. We miss being with the person. Speak, look, give advice and embrace”, Gomes says.