Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It is with us all...lets face it positively

By Chiku Jere

This story tells how HIV and Aids got closer to my life, both as a journalist and an individual.
“I got infected because of the loving and caring I gave to other infected people,” my late mother confided in me, at a private mother-to-son talk. She got infected at the age of 70. ‘That old?’ one would ask- ‘Yes, it sees no age’ would be my answer.
Indeed I saw my mother bravely and positively battle with the disease for two years until she lost the fight last year on 1st December.

Her sickbed was a counselling room for all of us, her remaining children and other relatives, who came to visit her. She did not stop advising us on the trends of life, and the way we can pull them towards positive course.

While talking, in her eyes, you could see the strength of a hopeful woman, who was facing the reality of her ailing health with courage. She was still the joyful and God fearing woman I had known. She did not want anyone to show a gloomy face because of her ill-health.
“God, I’ve tried my part and I know you will reward me,” she could say with a smile, wanting those who were present to say ‘Amen’ in acknowledgement.

And this could bring a smile of contentment on her face. She would not mention of death but a pass-on; a pass-on to the land where good things were expecting her after a job-well-done on earth.

“I’ve done my job and yours is remaining,” she could tell me, as someone on whom she would pass the responsibility of looking after those who depended on her. Indeed, the whole job is left to me after her passing.

However, with her courage instilling words of wisdom, I look only for positive aspects of how I can positively face, and stand strong against the negative realities of this world.
Let me share with you how it all began.

HIV and Aids invaded our household as early as the 1990s.

My auntie, the only sister to my father, was suffering from incessant illnesses and needed someone to be close to take care of her. That someone turned out to be my ‘Mama’. It was traditionally an automatic responsibility for my mother to look-after her sick sister in-law.

Innocently, trying to play a good caring in-law she took the role whole heartedly. She knew what my auntie was suffering from for she was the one who had insisted of her having an HIV test amid denial from other relatives- which turned up positive. My auntie died under the care of my mom a year later.

However, her death was not to give anything for a breather to my mother. The disease was at her door step once again. This time it was my cousin; a son to my mother’s brother- my late uncle who died way back.

Once again, my mother took the responsibility of taking care of him after his mother (a wife to my late uncle) refused to take care of her own son. He lived for three years grappling, with the pangs of the disease until he exhausted all efforts and died of HIV and Aids related illnesses. He died very young at the age of 26. ‘Mama’ was the one taking care of this young man until his demise.

She thought it was done but she was wrong. Little did she know that the disease was moving closer and closer to her own home.

Mercilessly it jumped on her first born son. This was the last straw that was to mark the end of her tireless effort of being there for loved ones.

She now, was to be next in line. Mama, single handedly, struggled a lot to raise a family of five children, four sons and one daughter—effectively playing both roles as a mother and father.

For over ten years (1979 to 1989) that my father dad spent in jail as a political prisoner, she looked after us with the meagre monthly salary she was getting as a primary school teacher.

She managed to educate us until our father was released at the dawn of democracy.

Then the father died few years later heaping her once again with the job of looking after the children and some relatives.

As an old adage says “the love of a mother is greater than anything”. I came to believe this when my elder brother, the first born in the family, got sick.

There was some bad blood between my mother and my brother’s wife and my brother publicly disowned my mother.

But after sometime, my brother was sick and his wife abandoned him leaving him with a little boy-child which my mother took care of.

“He is still my son and I want to see my grandson,” she said.

She managed to trace my brother and brought him and the child back home. He was seriously ill with no one else to take him for medical treatment.

Mama’s fear was vindicated when my brother tested HIV positive. She strived to find food and treatment to, at least, pro-long the life of her beloved son. She could bath him, feed him, and stay all the way with him hoping and praying that his life would be spared.

All the way, my mother did not complain, but with that motherly love, did the job she strongly believed God gave her; thus to take care of the loved ones with real love.

The battle to sustain my brother’s life was sadly lost two years later.

Eventually Mama started getting unwell. She secretly went for HIV testing and when it was confirmed she was positive, she broke the news to the family. “This time, it is me,” this was what she said to me behind the closed door of her bedroom.

Mama believed she got infected while taking care of all the loved ones. “I do not regret doing that entire job. It was meant for me and who else?” she said.

God bless all those who place their lives at risk trying to take care of the sick.

But can’t the world find a way of protecting those who care for their loved ones infected with HIV and Aids?

AJAAH organises students’ debate

By Henry Haukeya

Association for Journalists Against HIV and Aids (AJAAH) recently organised an inter-secondary school Aids debate which was competed for by Blantyre Secondary School and Henry Henderson Institute students.

Under the topic ‘Multiple Concurrent Partnership’ the two teams outsmarted each other in an interesting debate ably coordinated by Malawi Television presenter Geoffrey Kapusa, popularly known as Mr. Splash.

Kapusa threw questions to each of the members of the two teams before engaging the audience, who also offered interesting views on the meaning of ‘Multiple Concurrent partnership’.

The panellists agreed that multiple concurrent partnership is to have more than one sexual partner and this has resulted in most people getting entangled in the cobweb of sexual partners’ network.

The most interesting part of the debate was when Kapusa asked the panelists what they could do when they discover that their partner was cheating on them.

“Dump him and look for another one,”Mhango from BSS responded sending the audience into stitches of laughter.

HHI’s John Mkwanda had contrary views, “Pray for the one who is cheating on you so that he or she should stop such kind of behavior.”

But the most exciting contribution came from the audience where one contributor said as a student the best way was to plan, set goals and work to achieve them.

AJAA also invited a specialist from Malawi Network of Aids Service Organisations MANASO, Ndaona Muyaya, to brief the students on the dangers of indulging in early sexual activities.
Muyaya took the students through a session of life skills.

“One life, One goal, One family” was the theme of his talk.

Muyaya told the students that any human being has one life to live and one family and need to have one goal.

He said life is about choices and advised them to make right choices.

“Choices you make today will spell out what you will become in future…Make choices that will make you realise your goals and aspirations,” Muyaya said amid handclapping from the students.

“You must also be prepared to face challenges of the choices that you make,” Muyaya said.
His parting words left the students in stitches as he said, “Please take care of your uncle’s property. Don’t give it out anyhow, for the best gift you can give your partner is your virginity”

AJAAH Chairperson Rex Chikoko said he was happy with the outcome of the debate being the first to be organised by the group.

He said AJAAH has lined up a number of activities aimed at raising awareness among various groups of the society.

“Students have always been sidelined on awareness because organisations work on assumptions that they are exposed to literature on HIV and Aids,” he said.

Chikoko said he was amazed with the interest that the students expressed in knowing more about HIV and Aids.

“I am encouraged with the response,” said Chikoko adding that the next session will cover issues of abstinence, being faithful and use of condom as demanded by some students.

The media has to lead by example

By Madalitso Kateta

As a journalist reporting HIV and AIDS I have covered many stories of other people that are positively living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

As an inquisitive journalist, questions like. How did you catch the virus?How did it feel like when you were told that you are HIV positive? Andpresently how do you cope up with life now that you are positively living with the virus? These were part of the routine as I interviewed my news sources.

With time, I have now come to understand that we live in a world that may create sorrow when you believe you are enjoying the warm summer of your life.

A world where everybody is supposed to regret somehow. But is it worth regretting when you know the reality of your status?

So, how should I begin this story as it involves my own experiences with HIV and AIDS. Should I start by recounting how I have socialized with a number of members of the opposite sex?
Let me just tell you my story. I recently had the courage to go for an HIV Testing and Counselling session.

I have been on and off quiterecently and it never really occurred to me that the reoccurring illnesseshad been the result of HIV/Aids.

I did not think that I, a person that had so much knowledge on how HIV was transmitted and had written so much on how other people were coping up with life after testing HIV positive, would one day sit down writing a story about how it feels like to live with the virus.

In fact, it now astounds me that I, a person who felt that at first, could noteasily come into terms with the reality of living positively with HIV, have come to accept my present status: I am HIV positive.

Sometimes I laugh at myself when I recall how I used to make fun of how others were suffering from the virus. Yes, I remember that with some of my friends we could laugh at people positively living with the virus.

But the situation changed when I realised that I was a carrier of the virus. I realized that while we as the media have been vocal demanding that our politicians should come into the open declaring their HIV status, we have not lead by example.

Ironically, while it may be true that our friends in the political circles, I am sure,might be highly infected by the virus, the media it self would have been one of the professions that would register more cases if the testing process was to be made mandatory.
I now know how it is heartless to reduce persons living with HIV to their sexuality as they still remain productive citizens needing the same rights to health care and protection as everybody else.

For me, it now sounds illogical for the media to start lobbying that members of the legislator should go for tests and disclose their HIV status while the media itself has been entwined in a cushion of confidentiality.

I am HIV positive myself and, having been one of the journalists that have for a while been reporting on HIV and AIDS, find it absurd that we keep on reporting on ending HIV and AIDS-based stigma and discrimination, while we may have are to blame for some of the stereo typing that have created the problem. Imagine, during my last visit to Blantyre I told one of my close friends in the media, Richard Chirombo that I wanted to come into the openabout my HIV status.

It astounded me that Richard, while accepting that declaring one’s HIV status was the only way of ending the problem of HIV and AIDS-based stigma and discrimination, did not support the idea, arguing that as soon as

I did that all my colleagues would segregate me.

I liked Richard's straight forward advice. It actually reflected that asmedia practitioners, we have been doing HIV and AIDS stories to make our bread and butter. We have been in the forefront telling the nation the importance of going for an HIV test and, possibly, disclosing our sero status, yet we have not been ready to do so ourselves.

But why is the media not leading by example, by disclosing the HIV sero status of members within the profession?

Is it that there are no HIV cases within the profession?
Honestly, may be there are many HIV and AIDS cases in the media but we have chosen to remain in the cocoon.

I was surprised myself to see that when the advertisement for membership into the Network of Journalists Living with HIV was floated less than 10 journalists registered.
As a Person Living With HIV, I have discovered how normal life can still go on if you accept your status. You can love (I have a lover) and do your ‘duties’ as you used to do before.

To explicitly, end this article I would urge my fellow media practitioners that are paid up NAMISA members to seriously discuss and emphasize on HIV and AIDS matters on world press freedom day. Remember, we are all vulnerable.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Condoms:Blight or blessings

Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly said that condoms are not the answer to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and that they can make the problem worse. The Pope’s statement came hours before he arrived in Cameroon on his first official visit to Africa as the Pope.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the Pope told reporters, referring to the AIDS epidemic. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

In his four years as Pope, Benedict had never directly addressed condom use, although his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often said that sexual abstinence — and not condoms — was the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that any form of birth control, other than natural family planning (the rhythm method) is forbidden. Furthermore, the church explains that the purpose of intercourse is for “procreative" gains, and not for pleasure and other motivations.

Points to consider

Consistent and correct use of condoms has long been acknowledged as a safe anti-HIV transmission strategy. Should information that brings this into disrepute be reported?

As journalists, your role is to report on facts about HIV and known prevention devices. But as human beings with various beliefs and values, this can be challenging. How best can you deal with issues that are controversial around HIV and AIDS, while maintaining the requisite objectivity?

§ What role, if any, do religion and culture play in impeding the response to HIV? What are the different belief systems that abound in your community or country? This information can be used to produce balanced and thought-provoking feature articles or programmes on HIV and AIDS.

§ What do people in your own community feel about condom use, as opposed to abstinence and faithfulness?







Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nine years living with HIV

If you have ever thought being contacting HIV, the virus that start Aids is the end of the road, you better think again. Henry Mahwayo would change your fears into hope. Geoffrey Kapusa chats with the 29 year old man, who is still single but has hopes of getting married and have children one day.

I have met Henry several times and the transformation was so vivid the last times I met him. Dressed in a dark brown jacket and a nice pair of black trousers, Henry usually likes to finish off his outfit with a pair of sandals. But the day he showed up for this interview, Henry was wearing black shoes.

In 1999 Henry Mahwayo voluntary tested for HIV/Aids and was found positive. Several factors attributes to his status, but as he narrates his story, unprotected sex--fashionable in the early 90’s-- was the major cause of his lifetime ordeal.

“Happiness, those days, meant drinking beer and sleeping with women without condoms. When you talked of condoms you were deemed uncivilized,” he said looking straight into my eyes.

However, Henry developed a health situation and coupled with a series of deaths in his family, included his mother, brothers and sisters, and a blood donation exercise in at Kamba in Blantyre forced him to know his blood status.

“I don’t have any brother or sister. I had four sisters and three brothers who have all died of the HIV/Aids. My brothers and sisters died in 1996, 1999 and in 2004. My mother died in 2006. Apparently my mother separated from my father in 1981.” Henry narrates his story.

But then, a ray of hope never left Henry, the only surviving member of the family. In 2002 he learnt that government was now giving out free Anti Retroviral drugs (ARVs) to only those who were ‘very sick’.

Henry’s condition by then was not ‘serious’ despite being HIV positive.

Three years later, Henry’s legs started swelling due to what he thought was malnutrition and lack of blood. In medical terms he had developed cancer of the legs.

Two years later Henry’s condition worsened, prompting him to seek medical attention at the Lighthouse at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.

“I went for another HIV test at the Lighthouse and was told to go there a week later to get the results, which came out positive.”

By June 21 st 2007, Henry was put on an ARV treatment after receiving canceling. However, the pain on his swelling legs continued. Two months later doctors changed his dosage.

Four months down the line, Henry visited the Tiyanjane Clinic at Queen Elizabeth where a new drug Vincristine administered however nothing changed. He then started experienced a continued numbness on his swolen legs and was then advised to stop taking Vincristine.

Today Henry is back on ARV and is now able to put on shoes because of the improvements made on his swelling legs. He also takes other supplements like Antilip Tea and Chitosan Capsules which he also uses to boost his immunity.

Henry also takes Sibusiso, a ready food supplement which he got following the advice he got from the Secretary for Nutrition, HIV/Aids Dr Mary Shawa.

“I have the Sibusiso Ready Food Supplement Voucher from the Department of Nutrition, HIV/Aids in collaboration with Gift of Givers Foundation.”

Government of Malawi through the Office of President and Cabinet put in place the initiative to assist people living with HIV/Aids to live positive and have their diet complete by among other things, giving them a tin of milk, 2 vouchers of Sibusisio at K400 each, thus subsidizing the cost of K1,300.00 to just K900.00.

On the role of the media, Henry says it is doing enough though he thinks the target group, meaning those with HIV positive must receive a special attention as the perception to the HIV/Aids messages differs from those positive and those negative.

“All you need is talking to people with the problem. An HIV Positive person can better advise those who are positive better than those who are negative.”

Responding to the need for positive writing on HIV/Aids stories that usually suffers stigma in coverage by most media houses, an Association for Journalists Against Aids has since been formed following a workshop conducted by Media Desk of Zimbabwe, an arm of South Africa Against Aids (Safaids) initiative.

On a very positive side of the story, Henry hopes to get married to his HIV negative girlfriend.

“I told her am HIV positive and she thought I was joking. We went to QECH in January 2008 for testing. By then we had not yet started sleeping together. Since then we use condoms all the time and I enjoy sex without feeling like losing something.”

And who said HIV Positive people will never be fathers and or mothers? Henry smiles and through his eyes I could see hope and faith in his future life.

“I would like to have kids at one time. It is possible to have a wife and kids. The doctors tell me that it is possible to have kids who can be negative and my girlfriend is aware of the information available about people living with HIV/Aids.”

With his Junior Certificate of Education, Henry can hardly get employed and is staying in a house without water and electricity and hardly pay for his K1, 500.00 house rent.

Hope is the last thing Henry will make sure to lose in his precious life.

The Author, Geoffrey Kapusa is a TVMalawi Producer and Presenter and also a committee member of the Association Journalists Against Aids, formed following a two day workshop with SafAids recently in Blantyre, Malawi.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Malawi Journalists renew Aids fight

Journalists in the country have formed a renewed their commitment with the aim to consolidate the provision of information related to HIV and Aids in the media. The grouping named Association for Journalists against HIV/Aids was formed on Tuesday at a meeting that was held at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre.

The association was a combination of various media organisations that are into fighting HIV and Aids after realising the gap that have been existing between reporting HIV and Aids related issues and the new intervations that are being introduced in the fight against the pandemic .

During the meeting, which was financed by a Zimbabwe based organisation, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (Safaids) it was observed that a number of interventions have been introduced worldwide which the people of Malawi have not information to.

Safaids Media Liasion Officer Tariro Makanga Chikumbirike said issues of HIV and Aids are cross cutting so it was imperative that journalists of all specialities should be part of the fight against the pandemic.

 “Aids issues are no longer health issues, they are in politics, they are in social and even in sports,” she said.

Chikumbirire particularly was impressed with the presence of Malawi News sport Editor Pilirani Kachinziri at the meeting saying it spoke volumes of how issues of HIV and Aids has really affected the Malawi society of all aspects.

During the delegates derived all media houses in the country elected BNL journalist Rex Chikoko as its chairperson while Villant Ndasowa of FirstWave Media was elected the vice.  Ministry of Information Journalists Everson Kalanda was elected Secretary while Richard Chirombo of Africa News.

TVM Geoffrey Kapusa, MBC Dorophy Kachitsa, Joy Radio Henry Haukeya and Edith Mkwaila and Star Radio Mabvuto Zamadunga were elected as members.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baby born out of passion


Are tragedies like the one involving cyanide-laced Tylenol in the United States of America, which claimed seven lives in 1982 and received front page, top-of-the-news coverage while the issue of HIV and AIDS languished in the agenda-setting media, things of the decades now gone by? Will such experiences as HIV and AIDS news taking four years then, along with 20 000 deaths of citizens who would otherwise have done better with requisite information from journalists, before the media begun to accord coverage to such news merely history in this new era?

The wish is; if only they could be. The reality, however, is different; that is, if you talk about Malawi. While the Southern African country has been hard hit by the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the media has largely played a detached role or, where efforts have been made to highlight the same, the efforts have been but a scratch on the surface. Largely, this has meant covering what other organizations have done in this area, mostly, though, without evidence-based articles as what these organizations say is taken as gospel truth. No verification, whatsoever, whether any organization claiming to have carried out research really did so. What with assertions that some organizations cook research findings!

All the while, over 900,000 people call them innocent citizens, or one-in-seven adults, are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Every six minute, the average time it takes for one to finish an average meal, someone’s sister, brother, mother, father, uncle, aunt, guardian, or step-what, denounce their Malawian citizenship to death. 87,000 deaths occur annually, mostly of productive citizens of the impoverished, sub-Saharan Africa country. And this is according to the National AIDS Commission, a body mandated to coordinate the response- never again say,’ the fight’-  to HIV and AIDS in Malawi.

But, just like in the cyanide-laced Tylenol case in the US, the media in Malawi lives in 1982. That might be the reason reporting is still Luke-worm, the response that of migratory birds on recess, and the effects devastating.

No! No! No! No! No! No! No!  The mood seemed to say when Malawian journalists, courtesy of Southern Africa HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination Service (Safaids), met from July 15-16 at Mount Soche Hotel, Blantyre, to bring an end to this self-detachment and Luke-worm response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic through a new look organization that is the other word for commitment- Association for Journalists against HIV and AIDS (Ajah). Waving a new banner of commitment that promises to bring change to the way information is treated, these journalists agreed to move away from detachment to partners in development; from passive observers to participants- a form of new war, fought by the mighty pen and unquenched passion. The wall is broken, a new banner unfurled, a new dawn born- even though it may be that we are in the midst of a war the Malawi media never really begun over 25 years ago.

It may not have been of their own making, though, as the pandemic, and information about it, was largely suppressed in terms of impact during the early stages of the pandemic when Malawi was ruled by a doctor of repute in the name of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. To say, or write, that there was a pandemic wrecking havoc and threatening to undo social-economic development gains while a doctor sat on the throne would be tantamount to treason, especially in an environment where intellectual discourse was treated as anathema to development and, consequently, muzzled.

But what about 1994, when Malawi ushered in a second Republic and people were free to express themselves. Where had the media been to, drinking free coffee and tea? All these questions might have been answered by the zeal, enthusiasm, commitment, resolve, and passion evident in the faces of the 23 journalists gathered at Mount Soche. No need to live in the past; let’s just draw lessons from it, and start to respond to present health challenges- Tuberculosis, Malaria, Meningitis, pneumonia, high mortality and morbidity rates, among others- including HIV and AIDS, it was unanimously agreed.

The passion that coloured the meeting could not escape the eyes of Tariro Makanga Chikumbirike, Safaids Head of HIV and AIDS Communications and Knowledge Management (Hackm), who applauded Malawian journalists for taking the initiative to, among other things,  promote the dissemination of information among fellow practitioners’ promote participation of a wide range of people on issues of HIV and AIDS; and provide the platform for debate as regards the pandemic.

 “Journalists cannot be divorced form issues of HIV and AIDS. Additionally, citizens in the sub-Saharan Africa need to know about these issues for them to make informed decisions,” said Chikumbire, her faith so strong in the adage,’ knowledge is power’.

Her main worry was, “We can not reach a comfortable situation if prevalence remains high in our region; if productive citizens continue to die; if the media are mum. All this because HIV and AIDS is not merely a health issue, it is cross-cutting- agriculture, economies, culture, religion, all are affected. Unless we mainstream HIV and AIDS, we will be scratching on infertile ground”, and, then, we shall all be losers.

Losers in the 21st Century? Oh! No! Not with Malawian journalists, anymore. Not with Ajaa! Ask Rex Chikoko, Chairperson for the organization.

“This marks the end of cases, in the past, when media houses presented different facts about the same HIV and AIDS issue; when journalists only interviewed top officials on HIV and AIDS issue; when journalists looking for information had no one-stop-information centre- now we have plans to establish a resource centre where journalists shall get information. This will possibly reduce the visible lack of harmony when it came to HIV and AIDS facts,” said the soft-spoken Chikoko.

He feels that, through this platform, journalists will be able to propagate their agenda-setting role as they reach out to people. The emphasis will be on promoting informed information.

Even Villant Ndasowa, the one who coordinates Safaids programmes in Malawi, feels that a new dawn is here at last; in as far as the media response to the pandemic is concerned in the country of 12 million. Informed journalists are an informed nation, she added.

“Journalists will working together and one of the ways to achieve this will be through publication of a newsletter, which I hope will help a lot in exposing the ills about HIV and AIDS. We also hope that through the committee that has been elected, the media response to the pandemic will be well-coordinated and behavioural-changing,” said Ndasowa.

The committee entrusted with running the affairs of Ajaa is comprised of journalists from both sides of the media divide: print and media. These are: Rex Chikoko, Chairperson; Villant Ndasowa, Vice Chair; Everson Kalinda, Secretary; Richard Chirombo, Treasure; Vuto Zamadunga; Geoffrey Kapusa, member; Dorothy Kachitsa, member; Edith Mkwaila, member; and Henry Haukeya, member.

They come from the following media houses, or organizations: Malawi News; First Wave Media; Ministry of Information; Mawa; Malawi Television; Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, and Joy radio, respectively.

They will be expected to put into gear the two factors that, research in the US has revealed, often put an issue on the national agenda: make sure that HIV and AIDS news appear on the front page, and; that the State President gives a talk about the issue raised during his various national tours of duty. These will put to rest what happened in one of the countries to first register cases of HIV and AIDS: a news article did not appear on the front page of The New York Times until May 25, 1983- two years into the pandemic, 12 months less than The Los Angeles Times, and 10 months later than The Washington Post. Even so, American President Ronald Reagan did not give a speech about AIDS until May 1987, an unbelievable six years into the epidemic, at a time when 35,121 cases had been reported by the Centre for Disease Control.

From this experience, Ajaa really has to work hard to make sure that, in the end, either president Bingu wa Mutharika talks about an issue raised by the organization as, an agenda-setter, or the little HIV virus  grows big enough to appear on the big newspaper/magazine/newsletter print. Perhaps loud enough and visible enough to make the mark on the mighty microphone and screen.

Passion. Is the buzz word. And everything becomes possible with Association for Journalists against HIV and AIDS.

A new baby is born. Azimayi kodi mulipo: nthungululu bwaaa!!!