Medical care brings hope and empowerment in Eswatini

What does it mean to work for a purpose-led organisation? For me, it means knowing that my day-to-day work contributes to something bigger than the task; that every action taken helps to create a better everyday life for the many people.

That is why the IKEA Foundation a true source of pride for IKEA. The Foundation is the engine that enables our purpose of transforming the world through business.

In November 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in the IKEA Foundation’s IWitness programme to see first-hand the work supported through their partnership with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF).

Along with four other co-workers from IKEA Canada, I was privileged to witness the incredible work MSF has done to provide treatment to the nearly one-third of the adult population of the Kingdom of Eswatini (former Swaziland) who are diagnosed with HIV, TB, or both.

Increased life-expectancy

MSF has addressed the HIV and TB epidemic in the country with a deeply comprehensive approach. This involves developing a national infrastructure using the most advanced technology, integrating themselves into communities with small testing and treatment clinics, and ensuring one-on-one visits with patients living in remote areas. The life-expectancy of Eswatini has shifted from 35 to 55 since the beginning of the HIV and TB intervention conducted by MSF together with the Ministry of Health in 2007—an incredible feat in such a short time.

In return for hosting our visit, the only thing the MSF staff asked is that we tell their story. Tell the world about the patients, the people of Eswatini, and the work MSF is doing to improve lives, challenge stigmas and accelerate the access of inclusive medical care in low-income countries.

As part of my promise to them, I will share a story of a young women we met in the field. Her name is Gcwalisile.

Picture yourself at 26, living in a remote village, not able to attend work or school, see your friends, or kiss your baby or family members. Now imagine that on top of feeling sick and weak, and having to take dozens of pills a day; most days on an empty stomach. What state of mind do you think you would be in? What does it take to maintain a hopeful attitude in the face of these challenges?

Coping with a complex diagnosis

This is the situation Gcwalisile is facing. She has been HIV positive since 2016 and has been managing the virus. Until about two months ago, she was studying at college to become a Chartered Accountant. She noticed she was losing weight and came home to have tests done for fear of either having cancer or TB. She tested positive for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). This is a particularly complicated diagnosis which, coupled with easy transmission of TB, adds a level of complexity to her treatment. TB can be transmitted via the air. Although it is killed off quite quickly in the sunlight and breeze, the risk is still there.

Gcwalisile has been back home for two and a half months now, receiving treatment. She can’t hold close, kiss or hug her seven younger brothers and sisters or her baby for fear of transmitting TB. Her communication with friends is only through social media and she even has her own separate living quarters from her family.

We asked how she felt about the diagnosis and her response was one of empowerment and hope. After all her challenges, she says she is proud of herself for taking her health into her own hands and she is hopeful for the day she recovers and is healthy enough to take care of her baby.

Making treatment accessible

Her hopeful attitude was inspiring. She spoke to how grateful she was for the MSF nurses (like Helen, in the photo above), referring to them as “her life”. The dedication nurses at MSF show is an example of true selflessness. They create deep supportive bonds with patients, travelling hours every day to remote communities to ensure treatments are taken, and empathising with patients and the barriers they face in their living situations, while searching for solutions to make treatments more accessible.

This was just one story of my experience but one that fills me with gratitude, knowing that the job I do every day is contributing to positive life-changing action all over the globe. This is purpose.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead
Melissa Mirowski
Melissa Mirowski