Mother and daughter survive thanks to community-based program
“My husband died in 2016 from AIDS-related illnesses, and since then, I have struggled to raise our three children,” says 36-year-old Ida Matiki of Gomeza Village, in the southern district of Blantyre in Malawi.
The HIV epidemic has plagued Ida’s life since 2003. At the time, she was married and pregnant with her first child. Her pregnancy was challenging. She was often ill and always at the hospital. Her doctor advised her to get an HIV test and she found out she was in fact HIV-positive.
With saddened eyes, Ida recalls, “During those days, an HIV-positive result felt like a death sentence. I heard more stories of people who had died of the disease than those who lived. It took me a while to accept my results.”
She left the health center with a heavy heart and went home to tell her husband the bad news. She remembers, “My husband was very adamant. He refused to accept my results as a possibility for a positive diagnosis for himself. He refused to go for testing.”
Ida and her husband continued to live their lives. That year, Ida miscarried her first pregnancy at six months. A year later, she discovered that she was pregnant again. Their family was blessed with their first-born daughter, Mercy.
Ida explains, “We suspected that Mercy was born HIV-positive. We did not conduct any tests to confirm Mercy’s results and she was not placed on treatment because she was seemingly healthy.”
In 2008, Ida started her antiretroviral treatment. In 2010 and 2014, Ida and her husband welcomed Akuzike and Glory, their second and third children. Akuzike and Glory were born after the Malawi government had rolled out option B+ as a strategy to prevent mother to child transmission. Because of this, the children were born HIV-negative and continue to lead healthy lives.
Unfortunately, death came knocking on their door when her husband’s recurrent illnesses became severe. “I remember vividly the last time he fell ill. He was sick for only three days and that was his last battle with the disease,” shares Ida.
Losing her husband took a toll on Ida. She lost a companion, the father of her children, and the sole breadwinner for the household. A lot changed for the Matiki household. Their living conditions worsened and food became scarce. Her children dropped out of school, as she could not afford materials like uniforms, books, and food for them to eat while at school. Her health deteriorated, but she still took menial jobs to provide for her children.
In April 2017, during Ida’s monthly drug refill visits, her clinician noticed her dire state of health. He referred her to One Community for further assistance. One Community is an activity funded by PEPFAR through USAID and implemented by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs in partnership with Project HOPE and Plan International. The goal of the activity is to mitigate the impact of HIV while preventing new infections in high risk areas in Malawi.
Ida was linked to a Community Resource Person (CRP) in her area. A few days later, CRP Robert Kang’ombe visited her. Robert conducted his assessment and highlighted the need for index testing, especially for Mercy, who at the time was covered in painful sores and looked frail. The CRP also recommended HIV education, psychosocial support, economic strengthening, and education support. He sent the report to his supervisor Community Engagement Facilitator (CEF).
Two days later, the CEF visited the household to conduct index testing and provide further counselling and education. Thirteen-year-old Mercy was found to be HIV-positive. Her siblings tested negative. Mercy was immediately referred to the Chileka Health Center, the nearest health facility, for treatment.
A few weeks later, Mercy’s sores disappeared and she regained a lot of her strength. CRP Robert continues to proactively visit the household and ensures treatment adherence while tracking Mercy and Ida’s health through viral load tests.
The CEF explains, “We also taught Ida how she can support and disclose to Mercy. They were both linked to support groups in the area, Ida attends One Community’s Tigwilizane support group, while Mercy goes to a One Community teen club. Both have shown great improvement as far as their mental health is concerned.”
“When I told Mercy about her status, she was happy to hear that she would not be sick as often as she was in the past and that she could play with her friends. She has a very positive attitude and she often reminds me of the dates for her teen club meetings and hospital visits,” Ida shared with a heartfelt smile.
Mercy has been linked to a local private school St. Stephano, where she is receiving education at no cost to her family. One Community is supporting her with school materials, such as books, pens, school shoes, and a school bag, and she will soon receive her school uniform.
“I never thought I would be able to learn at this school. It was always my wish to see the inside of the St. Stephano compound; I admired the girls and boys who schooled here. I am so happy that I am now one of them,” Mercy says with delight.
Ida has also joined One Community’s Village Savings and Loans Group where she is saving money to order second hand clothes to sell which will allow her to increase the household’s income. “In such a short period of time, our family has been transformed. One Community came at a time when I did not know how my children and I would survive. But now I have hope,” she says.
For more information on One Community please visit the website www.onecommunitymw.org.
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