By Mike Viola
Nobody comes to visit little Musanda. Musanda is ten years old – and she is dying of AIDS. She lives at Our Lady’s Hopsice, a home for the dying in Lusaka, Zambia established by the Missionary Oblates more than 20 years ago. Musanda has several roommates, all of whom are dying from AIDS. Parents and friends visit these youngsters to help them deal with their fatal illness.
But nobody comes for Musanda. She is an orphan. She was brought to the hospice by workers at an orphanage. At night Musanda cries herself to sleep, wanting to return to the
orphanage – even though the orphanage doesn’t want her anymore. Still Musanda is not alone. She is cared for by the dedicated staff at Our Lady’s Hospice, who are committed to providing dignity to their patients. “All we can do is try and make her life as comfortable as possible until she passes away,” said Sr. Josephine Isabella, PBVM who oversees the finances for the hospice. “She deserves that.”
Our Lady’s Hospice was created by the Missionary Oblates and three other religious orders in the early 1990s because they were appalled at the inhuman treatment of AIDS patients. Hospitals were discharging patients with late stages of AIDS because their care was too expensive. Most of these people died on the streets or in bus stations.
The staff at Our Lady’s Hospice is a compassionate alternative. They provide care and comfort so that the poor can have love and dignity in their dying days. “We believe that these people will die in peace, pain free and with dignity,” said Sr. Josephine.
The hospice also provides out-patient services to about 1,200 people each month. The out-patients receive their medication, as well as psycho-social and spiritual counseling. Health officials in the Lusaka area estimate that as many as 20 percent of the population of Zambia is infected with HIV. Funds to care for these people have been shrinking in recent years.
Father Jim Chambers, O.M.I. who worked for several years in Zambia, said that health organizations around the world have shifted their funding to HIV/AIDS prevention and away from care for the terminally ill. “This has really created a financial struggle for places like Our Lady’s Hospice,” said Fr. Jim. “Prevention is great, but people are still suffering from HIV/AIDS and need treatment.”
Sister Josephine explains that medicine for AIDS patients is very expensive. The hospice spends about $6,000 a month on medication, roughly the same as electricity, water and food combined. The hospice staff is trying to cut costs by growing nearly all of their own vegetables and by renting space to community groups.
But children like Musanda don’t understand anything about financial statements, balance sheets or monetary flow charts. All they know is that they are dying. Thanks to Our Lady’s Hospice Musanda will die with dignity. And she will not die alone.