Once considered a death sentence, living positively with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, seems to have a positive effect on some people of Chiradzulu District, who, as THOMAS KACHERE writes, have lived for as long as 22 years with the virus.
For 60 years, Mary Chinyama, who is from John Kamete Village in Chiradzulu District, has lived with a physical challenge.
She has nevertheless managed to make the best out of it— providing for her family after her husband’s death.
From the look of things, not even an HIV prognosis hampered her spirits.
When medical personnel informed her, way back in 2001, that she had HIV, she simply took it on the chin and joined a local support group called Bilalo.
“I found like-minded people in the club, which helped me overcome challenges such as that of discrimination. In fact, through the club, I was encouraged to be taking life-prolonging drugs on time.
“I believe that being a club member helped me become open about my HIV sero-status, such that I disseminate anti-discrimination messages through plays and songs,” she says.
Today, her immunity is normal, which helps her do household chores and off-home activities such as farming.
Likewise, Feston Bandawe, who was born in 1962, has lived with the virus for 22 years now.
The tomato farmer, from Singano Village, Traditional Authority Mpama, has been through thick and thin.
“At first, I used to face discrimination. I would be mocked for carrying chiponde [fortified and highly nutritious food].
“People used to talk ill of me whenever they saw me carrying food supplements. I could hear them say ‘kodi wa Edzi angakhale bwino with chiponde?’ [Look at him; he thinks food supplements will do the trick for him].
“Even though I tried my best to educate them that being HIV-positive was different from having Aids, they could have none of that. The good thing is that I knew that that was not the end of my life,” Bandawe says.
He says, by and by, cases of discrimination began to dissipate, such that he has inner peace and goes about his business without setbacks.
“I take my ARVS [antiretroviral drugs], tend crops and other activities. I, actually, have never suffered from any serious illness,” he says.
However, some of the HIV-positive people we found in the area bemoaned continued cases of discrimination.
Manet+ Executive Director Lawrence Khonyongwa acknowledges that there are sporadic cases of discrimination but urges those who are living positively with the virus not to relent on adherence to ARVs.
“Taking ARVs properly helps the individual live a healthy life.
“However, for ARVs to work, there are some dos and don’ts. If instructions are followed, everything works well but when instructions are not followed, ARVs cannot work effectively,” Khonyongwa says.
He says, to this end, they are implementing programmes that support those living with the virus, one of which focuses on the provision of education services on HIV and Aids and counselling.
The Manet+ head adds that they have community-based support groups that help implement HIV and Aids prevention and management activities, describing them as necessary tools for psycho-social counselling.
One of the organisations involved in the provision of antiretroviral treatment services is Bangwe-based Umunthu Foundation.
The Executive Director for the Blantyre-based organisation is David Odali, whose catchment area includes Bangwe Township, Limbe Health Centre and a third facility.
He says they encourage people who are living positively with HIV to adhere to the treatment regime.
“When an individual takes ARVs religiously, the viral load gets suppressed and, once this happens, the immune system is boosted. This reduces one’s chances of transmitting the virus to others.
“This also reduces the mortality rate because a person will not be vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Such an individual plays an active role in development programmes, be it at household, district and national level,’’ Odali says.
He says, as one way of ensuring that even unborn babies, as well as women, are offered quality services, Umunthu Foundation has registered pregnant women in Limbe and Bangwe, where they get treatment and protect the next generation [unborn children] from HIV infection.
“We ensure that information on ARV adherence is disseminated clearly to the people that receive treatment. If someone is not adhering to treatment, we have community volunteers who help us follow the issue up to ensure that one starts taking treatment again. We do not rush to report or register someone as defaulting on treatment. We do our best to reason with them to get back on treatment,” Odali says.
According to global statistics, in 2019, Malawi had 1.1 million people living with HIV.
However, the country has made tremendous strides in scaling down the spread of the virus among people.
Reports indicate that it is on track in terms of putting a significant number of people on treatment, which can help the country achieve the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.