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Rekindling hope through decent shelter

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It’s a cold March morning and Eliza Mpalale is still confined to the shack she calls home, throwing one stick after another into the fire to keep it burning.

“The month of March was unusual this year; it was too cold,” she said.

Mpalale, 31, lives in Nelson Village, Senior Chief Symon, in Neno. She is a mother of four and she is positively living with HIV.

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Her torn dress tells the story of resource-constraints. Due to her poverty, Mpalale seems to have lost her self-esteem. With United Nations Children’s Fund statistics indicating that close to 60 percent of people that are infected with HIV in the country are women and girls, it is not surprising that most of those affected are poor.

However, Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and despite the country’s commitment to alleviate the suffering of the poor people, it cannot afford to meet the cost of the social and economic demands of its poor masses. Hence poor people like Mpalale have to struggle and hope that one day they are going to have a better life.

Just like any poor HIV positive person in Neno, Mpalale did not at one point dream of constructing a decent house. If at all she had such a dream, she was limiting herself to a ‘sun-dried-brick’ grass thatched house with brick sized ventilation. Every morning as she woke up from her hovel, dishevelled and shivering from the early morning cold, she would light a fire to make herself warm.

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Being HIV positive, her living conditions worsened her health condition.

“I was a regular client at Lisungwi Community Hospital owing to all sorts of airborne and water borne diseases,” she recalled.

That March morning when we first visited her was just like any of her very painful days. She was failing to go out of her little shack because of the cold weather outside. However Mpalale recalls that her worries were not usually centred on weather or her poverty. It was her children that were giving her more worries.

“I was often worried as to how I would feed my children once they came back from school,” she said.

She recalled the shock she experienced when she was told after my initial interview that the Officials from the US International Health Charity Partners in Health (PIH) locally called Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo that I was travelling with had come to tell her that they would construct a two-bedroomed house, complete with an outside kitchen, toilet and bathroom.

“I did not believe my ears,” Mpalale said.

Magret Msipu is another woman living positively with HIV. Msipu, who stays in Mwingitsa Village in the district, said she was now living comfortably.

She said, before the initiative, she would often sleep on the veranda of her house to give chance to her children because her old house was too small.

“I did not even have a chance to engage in business, “said Msipu.

Partners in Health has been assisting the government of Malawi in Health Service delivery since 2007, focusing on clinical and medical aspect of health service delivery, as well as social and economic initiatives targeting people that acquire services in the district’s health facilities.

Lira Kerr, external relations coordinator at the organisation, said in an interview that the organisation was established in Haiti some 30 years ago and is committed to transforming people’s lives in order for them to contribute positively towards national development.

“We believe that a good health package has to also include the social and economic heeds of the people it is serving, as we believe that access to health is a human right” Kerr said.

Programme for Social and Economic Rights (Poser) programme manager, Victor Kanyema, said the programme has rekindled hope in people living positively with HIV. He observed that challenges they face sometimes push them to the blink of HIV denial.

Kanyema said the programme has also assisted in the promotion of Anti-retroviral therapy adherence among HIV positive groups.

“We do not only target those that have tested [HIV] positive, we focus on those that are poor and vulnerable,” he said.

He added that, through the programme, PIH has reached out to over 12,992 patients with various support initiatives and it has built 74 new houses and renovated 174 0thers.

“We have also provided vocational skills to 168 youth and we provide social support to over 2000 primary and secondary school going-learners, “Kanyema said.

Neno District Health Officer, Dr. Lawrence Nazimera, said Neno has adopted a holistic approach to HIV and Aids care, resulting in high success treatment rates. Nazimera said the district has managed to have success stories in HIV interventions through the good.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that the lives of people living with HIV are prolonged when their social and economic lives are promoted. The WHO says people living with HIV have low survival rates as they can at times miss their treatment plans while searching for basic needs.

Gender Minister, Patricia Kaliati, said her ministry appreciated efforts being made to uplift the lives of vulnerable groups. She said her ministry was doing its best to alleviate the suffering of poor people through programmes such as social cash transfers.

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