In Malawi, EGPAF’s Teen Club Inspires Hope, Changes Lives

By Elizabeth Hamilton | November 6, 2013

Elizabeth Hamilton, EGPAF’s country officer for Malawi and India, spent time at a Teen Club in the Ntcheu district where children and teens living with HIV can find care, companionship, and comfort.

James Pursey/EGPAF

In Malawi, 770,000 children have lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS. Many more are abandoned or shunned because of the stigma and discrimination the virus carries.

Comprehensive HIV/AIDS care and treatment goes beyond providing antiretroviral medications. An essential component of treatment is offering psychosocial support, especially for children and teenagers. A strong social network with positive role models can help teens overcome the daily challenges of living with HIV– and in Malawi’s Ntcheu district the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) provides that outlet through the local “Teen Club.”

Each month, EGPAF supports the Ntcheu District Hospital to host a “Teen Club,” where more than 60 teens between the ages of 12 and 20 gather to play games, socialize, learn about the virus, and – most importantly – just be kids.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a group session at the club. I listened as they engaged in lively dynamic debates about the biology of the virus and asking questions such as “Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?". But really, I watched the kids blossom. Their smiles were contagious.

The teens were eager to share a long list of ways that this program has impacted their lives. They told me the club was different from school or their churches and mosques because they were wholly accepted by their peers. They could discuss their problems freely because their friends were also HIV-positive and that above all they valued the club’s confidentiality.

As I listened, one response in particular stuck with me. A girl said the club had changed her mindset.

“Before we started coming here, we were hopeless. We were afraid of having HIV. We were afraid of dying. Now we are at peace because we know that if we take our medicines, we can live with HIV. We aren’t afraid anymore.”

This young woman exemplifies how psychosocial support works in concert with medical care and treatment to give people living with HIV a new outlook on their future.

You can live a full and productive life, despite the virus. We can eliminate pediatric HIV. Together.

The Ntcheu District Hospital Teen Club is made possible by EGPAF with support from ViiV Healthcare.  EGPAF-Malawi plans to expand the program to other EGPAF-supported districts throughout Malawi.
To learn more about EGPAF’s work in Malawi, click here.

Elizabeth Hamilton is the Country Officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s programs in Malawi and India.