By Communities with Heart BLOG | December 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM EST | No Comments
Museums of Malawi HIV programming in villages include a very strong segment by a man living with HIV. Davison Mkandawire sometimes introduces himself to a village audience by asking, “Who is more dangerous between an HIV positive person and an AIDS patient? In many cases people respond loudly that an AIDS patient is more dangerous. Davison is quiet for some seconds. Then he asks, “How many of you have ever been tested for your HIV status?” He goes on to say that a person with HIV is more dangerous because he or she may look normal and behave normally but has the ability to pass on the infection to unsuspecting partners. Those with AIDS may be near death. Because they may have physically apparent symptoms, they may not be as dangerous to healthy people who can take precautions against infection.
Davison explains that in 1997 his wife was expecting her fourth child. She was ill. Doctors conducted all the necessary tests, but she never got well and they did not find the real cause of her sickness. Doctors asked her if they could conduct an HIV test but she vehemently refused saying she is a committed Christian, so there was no way she could have HIV.
Doctors then asked Davison if he would allow them to conduct the HIV test on his wife. He agreed and the HIV tests were conducted without her knowledge. She was found HIV positive. The answer to her illness was now known, but there was no answer as to how she had contracted the infection.
Davison was left to wonder about his status and was concerned that both of them could die from this. In those years he had no place to get advice and he could not share it with anyone else because of the stigma of the disease. What would happen to their young daughter who was only two years old at the time, he wondered. There was no information available about treatment, positive living, and how to handle the stigma and discrimination. Three days later Davison was tested and found to be HIV positive.
He explains that he lost body weight and food never tasted good. After his third test, he asked the clinical counselors what to do and he was told to join an organization called National Association for People Living with HIV/AIDS In Malawi (NAPHAM). There he was counseled about living with the disease but his wife still did not know of her HIV status and he was unsure how to break the news. New therapies being developed were not readily available.
Four years later they both went for testing and he pretended that it was his first time. When both were tested and found HIV positive his wife started crying. He told her that she was found HIV positive four years earlier when she was pregnant. He had been keeping the results to himself as advised by the doctors. He then encouraged her to join NAPHAM too. NAPHAM is a vital resource center for those who are living with HIV.
Davison readily shares his personal story now and listeners wonder how he managed to keep the story to himself for four years. He explained that he was afraid that his wife would commit suicide. They were both introduced to Anti Retroviral Therapy (ARV) in 2006 and both are alive and healthy today. They are now facilitators of HIV/AIDS information and are contributing to saving the lives of others.
He appeals to people to take the Museums of Malawi program as the opportunity of a lifetime because the information is invaluable. HIV education is a social vaccine because people can learn to live with the disease for life, but they must know they have it to prevent the progressive change into AIDS and avoid passing it to others.
Davison encourages people who learn they are HIV negative to maintain their status by avoiding risks. He explains that being found to be HIV positive need not make you feel unfortunate, but rather lucky because you will have access to the information that will lead to a longer life. ARVs have been free since 2005 so cost is not a limiting factor on survival for most people.
Davison emphasizes the importance of taking ARVs correctly. He explains how they have managed to keep him healthy for over five years. He also explains the disadvantages of the stigma of being HIV positive and how discrimination can kill people. Davison is a passionate spokesman for living healthy and he inspires people to be tested, many of whom regard the risk of HIV as being only among those in the sex trade. At the end of the Museums of Malawi programs clinical workers offer the HIV tests at the site of the programs and most do so.
In Malawi it is mandatory now for any pregnant woman to be tested for HIV. Few men get tested. There is a lot of work to be done, if we are to win the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in this east African nation.
Courageous people like Davison and his wife are vitally important in helping others understand the risks to their lives and their families. Museums of Malawi make it possible for Davison and NAPHAM to get to remote villages. Donations to the museums give them the resources to do more. If you wish to help financially, 100% of donations go to the direct costs of the program.
Aaron Maluwa, Museums of Malawi
P.S. When Lisa and I visited these programs in 2009, we watched more than 1,000 people from the village come to learn about HIV through the Museums of Malawi program in just one day. Their impact in just one week of programs recently led to more than 5,000 being tested. Donations made https://www2209.ssldomain.com/naimembers/webforms/malawi_donation_form.cfm#mce_temp_url# through the National Association for Interpretation go entirely to the Museums of Malawi to pay the logistics costs of this creative and valuable interpretive program.