In my Sunday post, A 29th Story of AIDS, I wrote about a young man, Tony Shelembe, who was the last person still working for the nearly defunct uMngeni AIDS Centre (uMAC)*. His particular mission was to counsel children bereaved by AIDS, but he also assisted sick people by driving them to clinics and acquiring the documentation they needed in order to get ARVs. He was a gentle, humble man whose first thought was always of the children. Tony died last night of TB of the liver.
Tony was on ARVs, but his TB was not diagnosed until last week, when it was too late. In a visit to hospital two weeks ago, his stomach was drained of liquid but no-one ran the tests to check for TB. Had they done so, there might have been time to get him on the right medication and save his life. My mother’s neighbour, who nursed Tony alongside his fiancé, Pretty, said no painkillers were able to alleviate his pain. Towards the end, they managed to get a prescription for morphine, which helped him. He had a two-hour sleep, and died shortly after waking up.
Tony Shelembe’s death was tragic, and unnecessary. He, of all people, was doing everything in his power to combat AIDS and its terrible ramifications for individuals and society. Today, we mourn a true South African hero.
We cry for Tony’s family, Pretty and their 10-year-old daughter.
We cry for the uMngeni AIDS Centre.
We cry for Sambeka, so recently a recipient of Tony’s warmth and help.
We cry for all the other people living with AIDS who relied on Tony.
We cry for all the people who will now say, “Look at Tony. ARVs didn’t save him. Why should I bother?”
We cry for the children whose parents have died who no longer have Tony’s visits to look forward to.
We cry for hospitals that don’t test people for TB because they look like just another walking skeleton.
We cry for a government that doesn’t appear to care.
We cry for a health minister who says eat beetroot and garlic.
We cry for all the people who turn their backs on this terrible crisis as a means to protect themselves when they could just help one person.
To those South Africans, I say please open your hearts. Please just help one person.
* Special thanks to all those who have offered to donate money to help Sambeka and the uMAC. If anyone else would like to make a donation, I can send you the email address of Dan le Cordeur, a Catholic priest who works with people with AIDS and volunteers for uMAC.