16 November 2005

A tribute to George Ng.

Here's yet another story about how people die here.

Last Saturday 12 November a beloved 46-year old local colleague of ours, George Ng., a technical assistant paid by us through a project but in the service of the government and the people of his native country, succumbed, after a week-long struggle, to the number-one cause of death here: AIDS.

(I had wanted to write about it earlier, but right on the day the day George died, I fell quite badly ill myself with a worse than expected case of malaria. Now that I am up on my feet again myself - though not much more than that, if I am to believe the doctor, I can say a bit more about it. Plenty of time all of a sudden too, since I am under official - and A.'s -instructions not to do a snippet of work until further order so as to recover fully from my bout of malaria.)

About George Ng. now: George was the coordinator of a project meant to support the National Authorising Officer (NAO), that is the Minister appointed by the government to coordinate all aid contacts with us and to sign on behalf of it regarding the aid we provide. If I wanted to be sarcastic I could say something about the fact that the NAO needs an extra support project to lead him through our labyrinthine procedures, but let s be kind and say that the support project is to help the NAO and his services with the financial volumes involved (remember: > 100 MEUR per five years) and the technical specificity of our projects that necessitate the extra help, which is true too. Moreover we re building local capacity and blablabla

After the May 2005 elections, ministerial posts had of course to be changed in an obscure musical chairs game of sincere willingness to reform and the good old jobs-for-the-boys routine. Anyway, the relatively competent and certainly very cooperative NAO we had went out, and in came a new one that has only been trouble for us ever since, blocking projects for trivial reasons etc. (sorry, can t elaborate on that now here, maybe the day he (or I) gets fired...). He also started to exert tremendous pressure, indeed harassment, on George - we suspected with the intention to replace him with one of his own pals, as Georges job is relatively well paid. And thus, within a matter of months , we saw George changing from a calm and reliable force into a nervous wreck.

The stress must then have unleashed the Aids virus in his blood, which in its turn may have triggered a cerebral malaria and a meningitis. Or at least these were the three illnesses he was diagnosed with in the week following his collapse on Sunday 6 November, just back from a government business flight from Cameroon. He s been clinging onto life for another week but died in coma on Saturday 12 November.

A tragedy in itself, certainly personally and at the family level: George was a devout Christian and a devoted husband and father, apparently so much so that he married two women (local legislation permits up to four), so one can imagine the legal mess that is going to ensue. A double family doomed to poverty, in spite of the fact that we, his colleagues, will make, have already made, a financial gesture. But also - and to me: most of all - what a bitter waste of talent in a country where high quality human resources are so scarce.

Our own doctor in the Delegation, PYL, who is a project manager in my section, was absolutely wonderful, and has been supervising his treatment until the last moment. But the doctors of the Community Hospital: shocking. It appeared that they knew all along that George Ng. was HIV positive, and yet the social stigma of Aids is apparently so great that even the doctors withheld this information for a long time from our PYL. This delayed the administration of antiretroviral drugs for almost a week and has certainly contributed to Ng.'s untimely death.

Mind you, we're presently building a 3 million euro centre for ambulatory HIV/Aids treatment on the grounds of this very same hospital. When even the local doctors give in to to social stigmatisation of Aids, one can imagine the magnitude of the work we have ahead of us. Or rather the work they have ahead of them.

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