She worked tirelessly to save lives of HIV infected and affected villagers
“When you get to Otse, just ask where Mma Bome stays and they will direct you,’’ she said as I called her asking for directions to her house where we were going to have the interview, recently.
Otse might be a small village but that does not mean she can be known by everyone, I thought to myself as I left Gaborone.
But true to her words when I got to Otse I asked one lady who gladly gave me the directions. As I drove further into the village I asked yet another young woman and a man just to be sure I was on the right direction and they both knew the directions to her house.
After taking me through her journey as a nurse, home based care giver and founding of the Otse home based care centre it became apparent why she was known all over the village and beyond. She was a heroine, a life saver and a provider of of hope where there was nothing but despair. She saved many lives that could have succumbed to the virus during the dark days of the HIV/AIDS era till today and therefore so many people in Otse if not the whole country will forever feel indebted to her.
Having worked as a nurse for years, Amanda Bome, 81 who was Botswana’s first nurse educator with university training retired from Jwaneng Hospital in 1990 at the age of 60 and settled in Otse.
“When I left my job, I thought I was retiring from the profession but nothing prepared me for what I saw in this village. HIV/AIDS though by then it was a taboo to mention by name was taking its toll on the community. People were dying in big numbers and affected families were overwhelmed. Every weekend people were doing nothing but bury a family member, a neighbour or a friend. Something had to be done to address the situation,’’ she said.
She then started mobilizing other people with the support of community leaders to help with caring of patients and teaching families how to feed and handle those who were sick as some people were getting infected while taking care of loved ones.
To be accepted by people in their homes they did not specify that they were assisting people with HIV but anyone who was sick be it stroke heart disease or diabetes.
“We did not want to be seen to be only going to homes with people suffering from AIDS related illnesses, but any home with a sick person. This way we were accepted into homes. During those days stigma was very bad and people feared the mention of AIDS . Making it obvious that we were after those infected and affected by the disease would have therefore meant doors being slammed in our faces,’’ she said.
They continued working but as time went on, they started feeling the weight on their shoulders. The disease was overwhelming; the government had to come in and assist the caregivers.
It was in 1998 that they sought audience with the then Minister of Health, Chapson Butale to give him a clear picture of how the disease was ravaging not only Otse village but obviously the entire country.
“We told him that we needed napkins, gloves, disinfectants and nurses.”
He said government could provide all of the things we asked for except for nurses as they were not there.
“I responded by saying: We are here, two retired nurses volunteering in our village, in every corner of this country there are other retired nurses who will do the same if they were to be asked.
At that time I remembered a newspaper article I had read in 1990 when an American was quoted saying at the rate at which HIV was spreading in Botswana given 12 years there will be only 12 000 Batswana left in the country.
I then said to him “Sir you will sit and plan in the offices and when you leave the office there would be no Motswana left out there. All three of us were tearful,’’ she said looking into the horizon as she vividly recalled the meeting with the minister.
The following month, august 1998, former president Festus Mogae started touring the country appealing to retired nurses to help families.
“Care of chronically and terminally ill patients had shifted from hospitals to homes and families. It was difficult and challenging both emotionally and physically,’’ said Mma Bome.
Although she was at one time during those years forced to go back to the civil service due to a serious shortage of nurses, at the back of her mind she still had her dream to start a home based care centre,. This dream became a reality in 1997 when she opened a centre, which was then used as a coordinating centre for all HIV/AIDS activities including feeding of those infected and for short time admission of the sick.
In September 2001, STD/AIDS unit organized an open day for all home based care centres in north west Botswana. Centres were to display how they care for rural community aids patients. On that day, Otse home based care got away with the first prize and the Ministry of Health declared it a model of HBC centres in the country.
The centre is currently funded by New Partner Initiative, an agency of the United States PEPFAR, but the funding ends in November and would not be renewed, a thing which is giving Mma Bome sleepless nights.
“If we don’t get a new donor, the centre might be forced to close down and all the hard work and effort that was put in over the years would go to waste. And what will happen to those who need the services of the centre, what will happen to the volunteers who are doing a wonderful job of educating the community,” she asked rhetorically.
She however believes the centre will not go that route as she trusts that somebody out there would appreciate its importance and give it another lease on life through funding.