PIUMA press conference in Dar es Salaam on the first anniversary of the lockout at the HIV clinic in Bulongwa

A delegation of four leaders from PIUMA, the HIV patient activist group from Makete Disrict, is on a three day visit to Dar es Salaam to bring its demands for better HIV care to government leaders as well as to network with other activist organizations.

The delegation is led by Burton Mwawaya who is a member of the Planning and Financial Committee of PIUMA. Wema Sanga, PIUMA's General Secretary, is the chief spokesperson for the delegation and they are accompanied by Izack Sanga, the head of PIUMA's Construction Committee and Counseling and Testing Committee, and Alvina Tweve, also a member of the Counseling Committee.

At a press conference at the Dar es Salaam Press Centre, the group spoke of the poor state of health care in Makete District and the difficulties PIUMA has faced since it was locked out of the local HIV clinic following its demands that local health officials put an end to corrupt practices.

This is a short account of the exchange with the journalists in Dar es Salaam today:

Isack explained the purpose of our trip: 1st Anniversary of the Closure of CTC; Wema explained the background to the closure of the Bulongwa CTC by ELCT Makete Diocese Management on 12th April 2006; we told reporters that since the CTC was closed more than 40 PLWHAs have died. Should we continue to die?

We also narrated our encounter with NACP Dr. Bwijo wa Bwijo on 11th April 2006. We asked the media to work with PIUMA to expose the infringement of human right demonstrated by different institutions and the government against PIUMA and other PLWHAs. We spoke of the stigma we are facing from even government officials who are supposed to support and protect PLWHAs;

We spoke about the embezzlement of Tsh. 272 million under the leadership of ELCT Makete Diocese and the Tshs. 240 million from the Global Fund which was embezzled by government officers working at the Makete District's department of AIDS.

We explained how PIUMA worked with the MSF and ANGAZA in running VCT and also about PIUMA's outreach programme.

We asked the media to support us in the war against corruption and for accountability.

We then gave room for questions from journalists.

Some of the questions:

Question: Have you explained this to your Member of Parliament, Dr. Binillith Mahenge?

Answer: We told reporters that Dr. Mahenge knew of the problems facing PIUMA months before he became MP. However, he has never attempted to meet PIUMA members although he has visited Bulongwa several times, and despite the fact that PIUMA had requested an audience with him and he had given his word that he would meet us. We told reporters that we were surprised that in one of the meeting in Ipelele ward, Dr. Mahenge accompanied by the former District's AIDS Coordinator Martin Gowere (who has been implicated in the Tshs. 240 million Global Fund embezzlement and is now out of office) asked PIUMA members to take off their PIUMA T-Shirts and burn them. As a result more than 20 members left PIUMA to form another group which is allegedly supported by the MP).

We also told reporters that we have been threatened not only by some ELCT Makete Diocese officials but also by some of the local government officers.

Question: Do you have machines and medical staff to work in the clinic that you want to set and for which the government does not want to grant the license?

Answer: We have CD4 Count machines, Viral Load, Liver and Kidney Function Machines and also medical staff for the clinic. With the support of donors from Austria, Germany and Canada, we intend to run a mobile clinic to benefit PLWHAs in Bulongwa and Makete in general.

Question: So why don't you want to take the government's advice to establish a clinic in Matamba?

Answer: Matamba is more than 70 km from Bulongwa. The government's policy states that its citizens should not travel more than 2 km for health services. We are trying to help the government to reduce the stress and problems PLWHAs are facing by bringing the CTC closer to their residential areas.
Isaack asked, "How can you as a parent refuse your own blood daughter a dress and buy a garment for a neighbour's child?" This is what the government is trying to force us to do by stressing that we go to Matamba!

Question: So what do you expect from your trip and what do you want to happen now?

Answer: We are here to share our experiences with the rest of Tanzanians and ask the media to work with us in a successful campaign against HIV/AIDS. We also want the Prime Minister, Vice President and the President to hear our cry and help us in our fight for basic human rights including the right to health, care and life.

Meetings with government officials and NGOs working on HIV-AIDS issues will continue tomorrow. PIUMA will begin its two day trip home on Saturday.