April 2018

A Malawi Farm Family Blessed with Grace

Country:

Malawi

Topics:

Adult Care & Treatment; Adult HIV Care and Treatment; Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission

This year on International Maternal Health and Rights Day we are reminded of the complexities involved in order for a to woman receive quality healthcare. Stigma and discrimination often play a major role in preventing women from accessing the care they require to keep themselves and their families healthy. Read this story below on how one couple overcame stigma and discrimination through joining HIV support groups that helped them navigate how to have healthy children: 

Seven years ago, Dina and Peter faced a health crisis in their family when Peter tested positive for HIV. As maize and cassava farmers in Mphonde, Malawi, the couple worried about the future of their two sons if Peter were to pass away.

“If God wants me to die, I will die,” says Peter, now 37, as he remembers receiving his diagnosis. He had a high viral load, meaning that his immune system was losing its fight against HIV.

Eric Bond, EGPAF

“I was really depressed,” says Dina, 31. “He is my only living relative.”

Fortunately, health workers at the Nkhotakota District Hospital immediately prescribed Peter antiretroviral therapy (ART), and he quickly began to recover his health. He urged his wife to also get tested, but she feared the result, so she put it off until she began to get sick three years later. Peter walked the six miles to the district hospital with his wife, where she was tested for HIV and learned that she, too, is HIV-positive.

Despite Dina’s reluctance and fear of stigma, once she learned her HIV status, she and Peter became active in shaping a positive response to HIV in their village.

Both joined HIV support groups, which educate its members about the virus, treatment, and nutrition—while also providing a community forum for discussing HIV-related issues, sharing fears, and asking questions of each other. They also work together on income-generation and grow gardens to supplement their staple crops.

“I joined the support group because I was in a lot of stress about my HIV status,” says Dina. “My friend noticed this, and she brought me along to a meeting with about 15 other village women. After getting counseling from them, I am settled. I know how to keep my viral load suppressed. I am living like a normal person.”

“In fact, now I encourage my other HIV-positive friends to take their drugs, to come out of the shadows and live a normal life. We encourage others to be united,” says Dina.

Eric Bond, EGPAF

“Stigma and discrimination have declined in the village because of the support groups,” says Peter. “Now everyone eats together; we pray together; we do social activities together.”

“Our sons are HIV-free,” says Dina. “They know about our HIV status and we talk to them about the modes of HIV transmission, so that they can remain HIV-free.

Understanding about HIV provided Dina with relief when she discovered that she was pregnant again. She knew that she could deliver an HIV-free baby if she adhered to the protocols of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT). At her three-month antenatal care visit to the district hospital, Dina was advised to stay on treatment and to come to the hospital to deliver her baby.

Dina’s pregnancy and the birth of her daughter went smoothly. Now their daughter is 5 months old. She has been tested for HIV, and the result was negative. She will be tested periodically until she reaches 18 months.

“We are excited about being parents again,” says Dina. “We feel that it is because of the grace of God, so we named her Chisomo—which means “grace” in Chichewa.”

Eric Bond, EGPAF

 

Dina and Peter received HIV support from the Foundation for Community and Capacity Development (FOCCAD), a Malawi community-based organization. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) provided FOCCAD with technical assistance with funding through ViiV Healthcare. EGPAF’s support for such organizations helps build local capacity. 

This story is part of a blog carnival in support of International Maternal Health and Rights Day. To learn more about how to advance respectful maternity care for all visit What Women Want, a global campaign to improve quality maternal and reproductive healthcare for women and girls.