“We work because we want to improve lives”, says Paulo Chimera, answering the following question: why would an individual“ waste ”his time to assist sick people free of charge?
Paulo Chimera is 35 years old and has been a community activist for over a decade, having started his career in 2008, in the central province of Sofala. After moving to Maputo, Chimera joined the Pfuka Uhanya association (an expression in the Changan language, which in Portuguese means: Get up and live) in 2012
Sitting at his desk, Paulo Chimera puts his right hand on his chin while his elbow lands on a pile of papers. His way of accommodating his back on the back of the chair is clear proof that he has lots of experience to share.
Instead of continuing with his statement, the activist begins to speak of an episode he witnessed in one of the community campaigns that his organisation carried out before the outbreak of Covid-19.
“There are hysterical screams and incessant cries in every corner of the house. The family members are indifferent to the patient’s situation, a chronic patient in terrible conditions”, says Paulo, stressing that he will still answer our question, but after telling the story of the patient.
“The patient could not get up, he was a kind of baby unable to get up off the floor. He neither ate nor drank. He pooped and urinated in his own robes, he looked like a dead man. We asked the patient’s family to open the bedroom windows so that, at least, there was an air intake. After opening the windows, a breeze came and the patient stopped squirming. We did everything to help him, we took him out of the stuffy room and we helped him stay clean”, said Paulo Chimera.
According to Paulo Chimera – currently program officer and coordinator of Pfuka Uhanya, an association of health activists – the story of that patient could have killed off his desire to continue to assist vulnerable patients.
The willingness to help, however, has always been greater, even when patients are stigmatised by their own family members.
“I tell you this story so you can see the effort we have made to develop activism in the health field. In other words, I want you to see, for example, the need to involve the family in the life of the chronic patient ”, argues the activist, adding that, after a few days, the same patient (resident in Bairro 25 de Junho, suburb of Cidade de Maputo) lost his life, although he was already showing signs of improvement.
Probably because he is the head of a family comprising his wife and his four children, he stresses several times the preponderant role that the family plays in the individual’s life, lamenting the fact that there are people who mistreat their family members, when they are in a worse state of health.
“It is crucial that the patient is cared for by relatives. Our goal is to raise awareness for people to be more supportive of each other. Nobody asks to get tuberculosis or HIV, so there can and should not be stigma”, said Paulo.
Finally, returning to the question that he set out to answer, the coordinator of Pfuka Uhanya says: “we do this work simply to save lives.”
After the stopping of activities due to the pandemic, Paulo Chimera saw the end of the community activities that his organisation had been carrying out. All ongoing projects were cancelled; Home visits to chronically ill patients were stopped. Financing disappeared and the crisis set in.
Community meetings are needed, patients lack counselling and the most vulnerable are at risk.
“Community activities have been banned. They are very much needed by communities, people need our warmth, they need a visit from a health worker. What we had programmed was postponed, Covid-19 does not allow us to do much”, says Paulo.
“Our activities have more support within the communities. Now we are limited, the meetings are very restricted and we were unable to conduct lectures on health services perfectly”, adds the coordinator.
For him, there are times when things go from bad to worse, with no money for transport for the few remaining activists, but even so, the desire to work to help others is grows strong.
Despite the negativism, Paulo Chimera is satisfied with the fact that none of his association’s employees have been infected by Covid-19.
“For now, we have no case of Covid-19. At this particular moment, we are pleased that all colleagues have been vaccinated against this disease. All colleagues were at the health unit for vaccination”, concludes the activist.