SOUTH AFRICA: Inner city blues - migrants in search of treatment

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Johannesburg, South Africa's largest and wealthiest city, has been attracting hopeful new residents since gold was discovered here more than a century ago. People from all over the African continent, many fleeing conflict and poverty, continue to flock to the city in search of a better life.

In the latest film project by IRIN/PlusNews, two HIV-positive migrants take us into their lives, sharing their experience of battling to access the antiretroviral drugs that can help them live longer.

Linda was already sick when she arrived in Johannesburg from Zimbabwe, but she did not know her HIV status. After months of sleeping rough in a park her health deteriorated further and she finally plucked up the courage to go for an HIV test at an inner-city clinic.

But as an undocumented migrant, Linda was cold-shouldered by the public health system when it came to providing antiretroviral therapy. She is now on treatment thanks to a Catholic mission that provides antiretrovirals to anyone that needs them.

Gilbert came to Johannesburg in 2006, leaving behind a comfortable life as a white-collar worker in Zimbabwe after his political activities made him feel his life was in danger. After learning he was HIV positive, he was referred to a clinic where he was required to show his ID. Under South African law, refugees and asylum-seekers have the same rights to access free health care as citizens - the problem comes with obtaining the documentation to prove one's status. South Africa's Department of Home Affairs has a backlog of about 50,000 asylum-seeker applications, and Gilbert is one of them.