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.
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”.
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.