Dealing with social ostracism


By Taonga Nyirenda:


The spread of HIV and Aids to Malawi in 1985 brought with it many myths, and discrimination towards those diagnosed with the virus.

HIV was then associated with promiscuous behaviour.


Over the years, the government and other stakeholders have brought in interventions to get rid of myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV and Aids.

The interventions have been focusing on scraping off discrimination and stigma against people living with the virus.

One of the activities is HIV awareness campaign, which reaches the climax on December 1, World Aids Day, every year.


There is usually a national event followed by district functions held on different days across the country.

However, on a visit to Mphompha in Rumphi District, 33 years after the first HIV case was diagnosed in Malawi, one finds communities still discriminating and stigmatising people living with the virus.

In Traditional Authority Mwankhunikira, horrifying signs of stigma and discrimination are vivid in Senior Group Village Head (GVH) Chivwenene’s area in Mphompha.

Mphompha is in Rumphi Central Constituency, about 17 kilometres off the M1 Road to the east.

In this hard-to-reach area, being HIV positive leads to excommunication from society.

Twenty-year-old Rose Kanyenda of Mwachiluwilira Village got married at the age of 17 in 2015 but, just after a year, her marriage was on the rocks. She was divorced with a five-month-old pregnancy.

While at her parents’ home she went for antenatal clinic where she tested HIV positive. Since then, life has been hell for her.

“After disclosing the news to my aunt and later to my father, she evicted me from her house. I opted to stay with my grandmother, a decision that did not please my father.

“He recalled me from my grandmother’s place to his house only to be told later that I should start living alone for fear of infecting the entire family,” Kanyenda says.

Now Kanyenda is helpless and feels her future is doomed as she struggles to provide basic necessities for her three-year-old child.

About three kilometres from Mwachiluwilira Village, we meet 20-year-old Donafegi Nyasulu of Chagwaza Village who is also subjected to stigma and discrimination.

She says since she got married in 2017, her husband’s relatives have been insulting her for disclosing her HIV status.

“My mother in-law says she cannot touch my child because he is HIV positive. I have not been at peace since I got married in 2017 because my in-laws insult me a lot,” Nyasulu says.

Kanyenda and Nyasulu are being stigmatised and discriminated against for living with HIV even though the Constitution outlaws such practices.

Chapter IV of the Constitution says every member of the family shall enjoy full and equal respect and shall be protected by law against all forms of violence.

Again, Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which Malawi signed, prohibits discrimination of persons in any form.

The article states that all persons are under law guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on any grounds.

Issues of stigma and discrimination are common in most rural areas of Rumphi and Mphompha area is not exceptional. However, most of the cases are left unreported.

These issues came to light when a consortium of Rumphi Women’s Forum (Ruwf) and Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowla), with funding from ActionAid conducted, an assessment in the district.

The assessment was done to promote access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and non-discriminatory access to social services such as education, healthcare and equal employment opportunities.

Ruwf Women’s Rights Coordinator, Tiwonge Gondwe, says the assessment revealed that people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination, a situation that calls for action.

“Issues of stigma and discrimination frustrate efforts in reducing new HIV infections, prevention and care. Therefore, there is need for urgent response to the challenges faced by people living with HIV and Aids in the area,” Gondwe says.

She adds that with the continued stigma and discrimination, the goal to end the epidemic by 2030 under the global 90-90-90 targets will be a big challenge to attain.

“How could 90 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status? How could 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART)?

“And how could 90 percent of people receiving treatment have their viral load suppressed within that time frame if stigma is the order of the day?” Gondwe asks.

Mphompha Area Development Committee (ADC) Chairperson Brown Munthali acknowledges that cases of stigma and discrimination are rampant in the area and that many go unreported.

He attributes the challenge to inadequate civic education to communities.

GVH Mwachiluwilira of Mphompha says he was shocked when he heard that some people were being stigmatised for living with HIV.

“I engaged the accused parents to establish the truth on the matter because it is my responsibility,” Mwachiluwilira says.

Rumphi District Council Senior Nutrition and HIV and Aids Coordinator, Blessings Kanyangale, acknowledges that stigma and discrimination refuse to die in Mphompha and other areas.

But Kanyangale says his office is incapacitated to deal with the challenge due to inadequate resources to reach hard-to-reach areas like Mphompha with awareness messages.

No wonder, stigma and discrimination cases go unabated. – Mana

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