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Family struggles to enjoy quality life

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‘BED’— Where the boy sleeps

The unwelcome combination of poverty and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is making life hell on the Earth for one household in Lilongwe. AUDREY KAPALAMULA explores the issue.

When 54-year-old Agnes (not real name) from Traditional Authority Njewa in Lilongwe gave birth to her last-born child in 2019, the tables turned in her household.

The child, Tiyamike (not real name), who happens to be the seventh-born child in the family, contracted HIV when he was less than a year old.

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“My son contracted the virus through breastfeeding. He was HIV-free but when he reached six months, I failed to stop breastfeeding him because I had nothing to offer him as alternative source of food,” she said.

The two cannot afford proper clothes and land. In fact, they stay in an unfinished house.

Tiyamike, now 13 and in standard two at Njewa Primary School in the area, says he gets sick frequently due to lack of proper and nutritious meals.

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This has been affecting his adherence to treatment as, sometimes, he has to skip his treatment until he finds food.

“When we don’t have food, I don’t take medication. Some people share food with me, sometimes they don’t,” he said.

His mother does not hide the fact that they are sailing in economic hardships. She says, sometimes, they are forced to sleep on an empty stomach when she fails to get piecework.

“In the morning, he eats porridge at school and takes some of the porridge home to eat as lunch. When I don’t have food, some of my neighbours offer me food and sometimes my relatives also offer a helping hand,” she said

Apart from facing an uphill battle to source food, Tiyamike also faces another problem— that of stigma and discrimination.

“This is perpetuated by schoolmates and, sometimes, friends in the neighbourhood. Some of my friends know that I get ARVs. Some mock me while others run away from me.

They tell me not to hang out with them because I take ARVs,” he narrated.

Agnes told us that it has been hard to support her son’s health because she relies on piecework at construction sites, households and in people’s fields during the rain-fed agriculture season.

“The maximum amount of money I usually get from those that give me piecework is K5,000. When I supply water to construction sites, it takes three weeks for me to get paid,” she said

During one of the visits to Agnes’s house, Winnie Chimtondo, who works with the Catholic Health Commission, said, due to lack of proper care and nutritious food, Tiyamike faces the risk of suffering from opportunistic diseases since his viral load is high.

“His viral load is high because he is unable to get his medication properly due to lack of food. The ARVs work better when one gets proper food,” Chimtondo said.

She looks after 30 children and provides psychological support to those that face stigma and discrimination.

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