ActionAid Malawi (AAM) joined the rest of the world in commemorating the 2018 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service on 2nd June, 2018 at a national event held in Mzuzu, the Upper Stadium under the theme “Reflecting on our Past, Planning for our Future”. The event was graced by the Minister of Health, Honourable Atupele Muluzi, MP.
During the memorial service, AAM and some of its implementing partners for the Joint TB/HIV Programme, which is funded by the Global Fund, mounted pavilions showcasing various interventions being implemented including HIV prevention programmes targeting Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) and People Living with HIV (PLHIV) through a Resilience and Sustainable Systems for Health (RSSH) programme.
AGYW and RSSH are two of the seven modules that AAM is implementing through the Joint TB/HIV Programme with others being Prevention Programmes for Female Sex Workers and their Clients (FSW), Prevention Programmes for Men having Sex with Men (MSM), Prevention Programmes for People in Prisons and other Closed Settings, and General Population.
The AGYW programme aims at reducing the incidence of HIV among AGYWs and is being implemented in five districts of Lilongwe, Mulanje, Mangochi, Thyolo and Chikwawa through Plan International, Christian Aid, World Vision, Dignitas and Norwegian Church Aid. On the other hand, PLHIV are supported through a Resilience and Sustainable Systems for Health (RSSH) being implemented across the country through MANET+ and its chapters.
During the inspection of pavilions, Rachel Whisky, a beneficiary of AGYW programme in Mangochi presented to the Guest of Honor how the programme is supporting girls to remain in school and avoid risky behaviors that would increase their susceptibility to HIV and AIDS citing the formation of education by-laws and life skills education as key among others.
Rachel, who aspires to become either a doctor or lawyer, also showcased some of the handmade sanitary pads which they sew at their club as part of life skills to control the girls from sleeping around with men to earn money for buying disposable factory sanitary pads. “These pads are user-friendly and re-usable. As such, we do not spend more money. This prevents us from falling for men who entice us with their money and in the end can transmit HIV to us,” she explained.
Speaking during the function, the Guest of Honor, Minister of Health and Population, Honorable Atupele Muluzi, MP, acknowledged that Malawi has registered huge success in combating AIDS, which include access to free ART treatment. He said that improved access to free ART has drastically reduced HIV-related deaths as opposed to the early years of the epidemic where those infected had to buy the drugs.
“Overall, Malawi has about 1.1 million people living with HIV and out of these, 750 000 know their status and 86 percent of these are on free ARVS meaning their viral load is suppressed and are not at risk of transmitting the virus to other people,” he said.
In addition to this, Honorouble Muluzi announced that Malawi will launch a new HIV drug in January 2019 called tenofovir-lamivudine-dolutegravir (TLD) to replace the current 5A. This new drug is said to have fewer side-effects and will therefore improve adherence among people living with HIV, thereby suppressing their viral load further. Botswana, Kenya and South Africa are some of the countries that have already started administering TLD drugs.
However, the Minister encouraged stakeholders implementing HIV interventions to intensify the HIV prevention by targeting the key populations including Adolescent Girls and Young Women and Men with HIV messages and encouraging them to go for HIV testing and start taking ARVs once diagnosed with HIV virus.
“Preventing HIV infection is a priority for my ministry because it is cost effective and better than cure. Currently, we are recording 36000 new infection in a year which would have been avoided if those infected had prevented. “Be faithful to your partner or use condoms as an alternative and prevent contracting or spreading HIV virus,” he pleaded.
“Besides, I encourage everyone to go for HIV testing to know your status. This includes the youth because nowadays this age-group is conducting sexual relations and are at high risk of contracting the virus,” he continued.
Going by this year’s theme, the Minister insisted that as a nation, we ought to analyze what we have done in curbing HIV, promote what has been successful and learn from our mistakes.
AAM was one of the 9 organizations that mounted pavilions at the event. The other organizations included Banja la Mtsogolo (BLM), Pakachere, United Nations (UN), National AIDS Commission (NAC), Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organizations (MANASO), the Malawi Police, and National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi (NAPHAM).
International AIDS Candlelight Services are coordinated by Malawi Network of People Living with HIV (MANET+) through the Ministry of Health in collaboration with other key stakeholders in the public, private and NGO sectors. Officially, the service is conducted on the third Sunday of the month of May.