28 Apr JRS South Africa: towards dignity and inclusion, the JRS health team
«Just ten minutes, I won’t stay long today because she just wants me to see the girl, the boy is at school,» says Marceline
Access to health is a step towards dignity and social inclusion for those who have been forced to leave their country. «Democracy is in the health department» says Marceline. With eight workers and three volunteers under the supervision of Marceline and the social worker in charge of the health department, the JRS health team assists more than 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers through home-based care services, counselling and financial support.
«From Monday to Thursday we go from house to house to meet patients basic needs» explains Marceline. «For those who are very sick, JRS can even go along with them to the hospital, collect medication for them, clean, bathe, cook and make sure they take the medication properly.»
Every Monday and Tuesday, Marceline also provides health counselling at the JRS office in Belgravia «for people who have an appointment at the hospital, but not the money to go there or for those who do not understand their illness». Some patients may apply for JRS funds for medical care consultation fees and transportation to health centers.
Marceline examine about 20 people a day in the office (mainly from the Great Lakes region, but also from Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, Southern Sudan and Bangladesh). And visit an additional of 40 patients in the home-based care programme. Shifts are long and intense. There is no time to lose. «Once you start, you don’t stop,» admits Marceline. «I am strong and dedicated when it comes to dealing with them. I can even go on Sunday to take care of those I didn’t have time to visit», she says.
JRS also offers routine health checks (blood pressure, sugar testing and HIV testing) and conducts workshops in different areas around Johannesburg. Marceline tells how they even go to different neighborhoods, knocking on the houses, shops doors and asking the people on the street to refer to JRS any asylum seekers, refugees or undocumented migrants who need assistance.
Accompaniment and information are crucial. In fact, some of the main challenges that JRS addresses in South Africa are witchcraft, as well as stigma and lack of information on some diseases. «They [patients] don’t know that they can live with what we call a chronic disease forever, you just have to know how to treat it. When we do workshops, South Africans can say: I’m living with cancer, with epilepsy, with HIV and now I’m coming back to life with my medicine», says Marceline, «but a Congolese person will never accept the disease, they will continue to pretend to be fine. You can’t deny being sick. Illness is part of our life».
A quick visit to Didi at his modest roadside stall helps Marceline make sure that both, the women and Didi’s youngest son are doing well. As a single mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Didi tries to get to the end of the month by selling avocados, sweets, peanuts and other foods. His 17-year-old daughter hugs Marceline as soon as the nurse gets out of the car. All three family members are HIV-positive, as Didi and her daughter were sexually abused in their country more than eight years ago. Alone and lost as a foreigner in South Africa, Didi was unable to take the pre-exposure prophylaxis pill to avoid infecting her son, of whom she was pregnant at the time. Since 2008, JRS has been addressing their needs and helping children learn and understand their disease.
For Marceline it is crucial to work closely with the patient. «When [the public health staff] deny treatment or medication to someone because it’s not documented, that’s when we go there and talk to the hospital manager to get the medication. Because they charge them more, they don’t have enough to meet their basic needs, which means they end up not taking the medication. »The JRS health service is important because most of the time, when you are in a chronic condition or if you have some kind of disease, you are alone. And no one is on your side…“We [JRS] are now like a family member for people who are sick”.
«The JRS health service is important because most of the time, when you are in a chronic condition or if you have some kind of disease, you are alone. And no one is on your side… We [JRS] are now like a family member for people who are sick».