The dawn of the new millennium cast a dark pall over the Southern African nation of Malawi. The county faced a food crisis that was, in part, fueled by the loss of agricultural workforce due to AIDS-related deaths. The national HIV prevalence rate was at 16%, and as high as 30% among pregnant women. With the coming of anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) in 2003, NGOs and systems of government rushed to educate HIV positive people, who had by now organized into peer support groups within their communities. Essential steps taken by these groups to living positively with the disease included good nutrition, practicing abstinence and safe sex, proper ARV adherence, as well as learning how to give home-based care to bed-ridden HIV positive peers in the community.
Ten years later, support group members are not only some of the healthiest-looking people in their communities, they’re also talking to their negative or untested peers about the importance of HIV testing and the availability of ARV drugs, all while openly discussing their own status, thereby combating the stigma associated with the disease that often hinders early diagnosis.
Support groups have brought economic empowerment to themselves through the start of village savings and loan groups (VSL). They are spreading the gospel of kitchen gardens and good nutrition through community cooking sessions. They’re even helping to shoulder some of Malawi’s health care burden by giving home-based care to those who are chronically ill. A decade ago, no one could foresee that HIV positive people would ever be anything but a huge burden on Malawi’s health care system, much less active contributors to Malawi’s development.
The support groups shown in this video are organized and administered by NAPHAM, the National Association for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi, with oversight and funding by Catholic Relief Services. The above feature is the second video I shot and produced for Catholic Relief Services in Malawi in as many months.