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MALAWI: Volunteers helping people with HIV/AIDS

Photo: IRIN
HIV/AIDS is stretching health care resources in Malawi
lilongwe, 17 September 2002 (PlusNews) - Malawi is reinforcing its image as the "warm heart of Africa" by forming networks of volunteers who provide home-based care (HBC) to the country's HIV/AIDS sufferers.

The groups help the sick with bathing and going to the toilet. They fetch water for them and help with some housework and disseminate HIV/AIDS awareness into the communities. This takes some of the strain off the public health system and frees up beds in hospitals.

In the Salima district of central Malawi, over 1,000 volunteers from the Salima Aids Support Organisation (SASO) work in 457 villages twice a week. They cover a population of almost 250,000 and, with support from the UN Children's Fund and a group called Southern Africa Training, they identify patients through word of mouth, from counselling sessions, or receive referrals from hospitals no longer able to help the patient.

An estimated 15 percent of Malawians aged between 15 to 45 are HIV positive.

Catherine Phiri, executive director and founder of SASO, has already been recognised with an award from the UN for the organisation's achievements in breaking the silence surrounding the disease.

"Some people have begun confessing to us that they used to look down upon us and called us 'the AIDS people'. But the problem of discrimination and stigmatisation is slowly going down," Goodwin Holiabu, HBC coordinator for the organisation told IRIN.

In Mzuzu, in northern Malawi, another HBC project provides support to about 860 affected families with 225 young volunteers.

"The goal of the project is to create awareness of HIV and Aids prevention and transmission messages, and also to support guardians that are looking after the infected [people]," Levi Soko, acting project coordinator for the project said.

The project also offers some vocational training such as embroidery, mat making, welding and carpentry to children orphaned by the disease.

Jennie Mueller, head of Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), a project that helps communities implement programmes to cope with HIV/AIDS, said that HBCs helped families understand the illness and allowed people to die with dignity at home.

"It provides hope and a way to cope and it helps the grieving process because the community would already be reaching out to that family over the period of illness," she said.

The Mzuzu HBC project has won funding from the Catholic Relief Services, and a British-based Catholic organisation, CAFOD. It works in partnership with other organisations with related projects such as the District Social Welfare and Districts AIDS Coordinating Committees.

Volunteers have also mobilised communities to support them through donations of clothing, maize flour, sugar and bedding while funding for the programmes provided the basic drugs and vitamins needed.

Patients received food and a high energy formula called Likuni Phala to boost their nutrition, as well as counselling to lift their spirits and those of their families and guardians.

However, Soko said that although the HBC project was a success, communities still discriminated against those infected, and made it difficult for people to admit they had HIV/AIDS.

Some families refused to share resources, and some community members were demanding allowances to attend meetings.

The HBC organisations also continually faced the fear of losing their donor funding, or not having enough drugs or food.

Despite these challenges, Soko said, the volunteers were very dedicated.

"What it means is that they are serving their neighbours, they're serving their brothers and relatives," he said.

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

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

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