News from Malawi- HIV/AIDS is “Coming Out”

Dr. Lorna Adams, Give a Day supporter writes…It is becoming clear to me, as I spend more time in Malawi working in the HIV/AIDS Clinic run by Dignitas International, that HIV and AIDS are  coming ‘out’ in Malawi.  There are posters everywhere, encouraging people to “know your status”.  Signs in stores and offices ask people to reduce transmission of the virus by using condoms, and there are education programs in schools about how the virus is transmitted.   Posters encourage people to be tested, and there is a significant attempt to reduce the ‘stigma’ of being diagnosed HIV positive. 

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In the nursing school that is associated with the Zomba Central Hospital and the Tisungane Clinic, I walked by a sign showing two young people, gazing into each other’s eyes, with the caption  “AIDS/HIV….if you don’t have it, don’t get it.  If you have it, don’t pass it on”.  It was quite clear and to the point. 

I worked with Alice Kadzanja in Malawi, a nurse who was portrayed in Stephanie Nolen’s remarkable book, “28  Stories of AIDS in africa”.  Alice is HIV positive, and supports people in their decision to consider being tested, using herself as an example of someone who was sick, and is now well because of treatment.  Alice played volleyball on the Clinic Sports Day, proudly wearing her T shirt which declared “ARV’s are essential drugs for people with AIDS”. 

Nurse Alice Kadzanja, Tisungane Clinic, Malawi

Nurse Alice Kadzanja, Tisungane Clinic, Malawi

I met another woman on a bus, who was happy to have me photograph her with her shirt that proclaimed for all to see that she was on therapy.  It is actions like this that reduce the stigma of being diagnosed HIV positive, and encourage people to discuss their risk of infection.  The Dignitas Program has allowed many people in the Zomba area of Malawi to understand that AIDS is a treatable disease.  In a continent where HIV infection knows no age, socioeconomic, educational, gender, political or cultural bias, this is a remarkable and very important step forward in the fight against this pandemic.


Cassels, Brock and Blackwell, LLP launch their Give a Day 2009 Campaign

Laura Shiner, Articling Student at Cassels, Brock and Blackwell, LLP writes…

The Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP Give a Day team kicked off our 2009 campaign on November 10 by hosting a lunch lecture with James Fraser, the co-founder of Dignitas International.  We had a great turnout as over one hundred partners, associates and staff came out to show their support and learn about one of the recipient organizations that Give a Day supports.

James Fraser, co-founder of Dignitas International

James Fraser, co-founder of Dignitas International

Fraser spoke about the work Dignitas is doing in Malawi and the changes that have occurred in the Zomba District since 2004.  When he first arrived in Malawi, Fraser came face to face with a community without hope.  Nurses in health care centers sat behind their desks drinking tea because they were completely overwhelmed by the number of patients in their care.  Frightened mothers refused to care for their infants because they feared getting sick from their IVs. Thousands of Malawians sat on their doorsteps waiting to die.

Now, only a few years since Dignitas’ work began, there have been extraordinary changes.  60,000 pregnant women have accessed Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission services to help prevent transmission of HIV to their newborns. More than 10,500 children and adults have been started on life-extending anti-retroviral therapy.Along with this, the overall mood of the community is more optimistic, and health care workers are described by Fraser as having “a spring in their step.” The people in the Zomba District are leading productive lives once again.

Dignitas is now preparing to begin “Phase 2” of its activities in Malawi, which means expanding throughout the country and repeating the successes from Zomba District in other communities.

The CBB Give a Day team hopes that we can exceed our campaign goals for 2009 in order to support Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in such worthwhile ventures.

Tilly Gray, member of the Cassels Give a Day 2009 Committee

Tilly Gray, member of the Cassels Give a Day 2009 Committee