On World AIDS Day, we can celebrate some progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS in terms of finding a cure. However, many millions of people around the world still suffer as a result of the disease.
Malawi has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. With over 10% of Malawians diagnosed with the disease, its impact has reached almost every person. There is a high rate among youth, with 2.7% of young men and 4.5% of young women between 15 – 24 living with HIV/AIDS. Our Straight Talking project, launched in 2010, provides support and information to the youth of Nkhata Bay North about HIV/AIDS. This is conducted through educational AIDS Action Clubs and Teen Clubs to support youth between 15 – 25 living with HIV/AIDS.
The AIDS Action Clubs (AAC) operate within 40 schools throughout the local area. Participants come together to discuss and raise awareness of the disease through singing, poetry, and dramas. Through interactive and engaging methods, the pupils are also building skills which will benefit them in the future. A student mentioned to us that;
“I am very happy to be one of the best actors in drama at our club. I am happy because it’s an additional skill to my education. this will help me to remain independent as I grow up.”
There are now 2,200 school pupils involved with the AACs. It is important to remember that these pupils will also spread their knowledge to everyone they know, further increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS in their local communities. In fact, one participant has re-affirmed this statement telling us that;
“I am now confident enough to go out and educate fellow youth to prevent this deadly disease that is affecting many families in our communities.”
Teen Clubs identify young people who are HIV positive, then provide them with support by engaging them to communicate to one another. This has an incredible effect on the members, showing that they are not alone. An attendee confessed to us that;
“I feel comfortable at the meetings because I am with fellow members and I feel like they are part of one family. They make me forget that I am an orphan.”
Meetings are monthly and provide mental support alongside medication and information on healthy living. However, the clubs have noted multiple challenges which have emerged over the years. This includes young people being afraid to come to the meetings in case they are exposed as being HIV positive. Another common obstacle is when young people inevitably want to enter relationships. The challenge then is making sure the disease does not spread to another person.
Members are also given a guardian who supports them through coping with their condition. These guardians provide a wide variety of support such as counselling and confidentiality. But they also organise the meetings and work on reducing stigma in the local area. We currently support 86 young people in these clubs. One participant stated to us that;
“At first it was difficult for me to understand about HIV and be positive but now the club has opened my mind about how to live positively. Plus, I am able to keep my health strong since I am able to understand what is happening to my body.”
Both the AACs and Teen Clubs have led to increased knowledge about HIV/AIDS within Nkhata Bay North. Additionally, there has also been an increase in the number of students being tested for HIV, which clearly shows the benefit of these two initiatives within the local community.