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 Sunday 15 July 2007
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MALAWI: HIV/AIDS leaves young people struggling to survive

Photo: IRIN
Young girls are more vulnerable to HIV infection
LILONGWE, 27 December 2006 (PlusNews) - Chisomo Jonasi, 12, who lives in Lirangwe, on the outskirts of Blantyre, Malawi's second city, lost both his parents to AIDS-related illnesses 18 months ago. He now spends most of his time doing odd jobs in people's gardens to support his three siblings, the youngest of which is five.

Were it not for HIV, he said, his parents would be alive and he and his two sisters and brother would have continued their education. "As the situation is now, our future looks gloomy."

Like most other families in the area, Chisomo's relatives are too poor to take them into their homes. Instead, the children have remained in the grass-thatched mud house left by their parents. "It is not easy, but we are surviving. My hope now lies in those who wish us well," said Jonasi.

According to government statistics, only an estimated 8.6 percent of the two million young people eligible were enrolled in government secondary schools in 2005. Twaina Hare, 18, also dropped out of school to care for her two younger sisters when their parents died of AIDS-related illnesses. She and her sisters farm a small patch of land they inherited, but Hare worried that it was not enough to live on. "Life is becoming unbearable," she said.

Young girls orphaned by HIV/AIDS are often pushed into early marriage in the belief that their husbands will take responsibility for caring for their younger siblings.

"This is what is happening now - HIV and AIDS has reached a stage where most of us are going into marriage, thinking that we will find solace, forgetting that there may be more problems in the marriage than we anticipate," said Layiti Robert, 24, a primary school dropout who was himself an orphan.

The lack of testing facilities in rural areas means most orphans do not know their HIV status. Only those sick enough to be taken to Mlambe Hospital, 45km away, are tested. Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is available at Mlambe Hospital, but the cost of transport is beyond the means of most orphans.

UNAIDS estimated in 2005 that 91,000 people out of 940,000 living with HIV in Malawi were children under the age of 15, and 550,000 children had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The organisation has also estimated that stigma and discrimination are relatively high among young Malawians, with only 30.8 percent of females and 29.7 percent of males aged 15-49 years expressing positive attitudes towards those living with HIV.

Most of the orphans IRIN/PlusNews talked to complained of suffering stigma and discrimination. Many said they lacked food and clothes but, most importantly, parental love.

"Since I lost my parents in 2004, my relatives no longer want me close to them," said Gertrude Malizani, 15, as tears trailed down her cheeks. "I am called all sorts of names, as if I chose to be an orphan."

Organisations like the Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) and the local Chivumbe AIDS Support Group are assisting HIV-affected or -infected children and their families in the Lirangwe area with home-based care and education about how to prevent HIV transmission.

Funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy has enabled MRCS to implement an integrated HIV/AIDS programme in many districts, to improve access to treatment, care and support for orphans and vulnerable children. According to Red Cross Programme Officer Joseph Namagonya, the initiative is up and running in 25 villages outside Blantyre.

"When the project started we identified about 50 chronically ill patients, most of whom were young people who had not gone for HIV tests but were clearly suffering from AIDS-related illnesses," Namagonya said.

About 33,000 orphans and children made vulnerable by AIDS have been identified by home-based care groups operating in the district. A number of groups, funded by the Red Cross, are constructing centres and providing the children with food and clothing.

The young people are also encouraged to join youth clubs, where they are trained to support those affected by ill-health or food shortages in their communities.


[Produced in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies:]

Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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