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News : News Article
Mother buddies in Malawi – 3 May 2012
In Malawi, one in five children born to a HIV-positive mother is infected – a death sentence at birth. However, child and maternal mortality can be reduced dramatically with a number of low-cost interventions. Tearfund Ireland has received three year’s funding from Irish Aid, a government department, to mobilise churches and communities in rural Malawi to stop AIDS but still needs donations to enable this life-saving work to succeed. Give today
‘Slim disease’ is the local name given to AIDS which has ravaged the country since the 1980s. More than 10% of the population are infected with HIV and tragically are passing it on to the next generation. Rev. Harold, a church leader in Chitera was exhausted from attending the funerals of AIDS victims with often as many as ten per month. ‘People were in a constant state of grief.’ he says, ‘It was particularly tragic when a young infant wasted away and died’.
Rev. Harold then attended a training run by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Tearfund’s partner. He realised that AIDS was the equivalent of leprosy in Biblical times. ‘Sufferers were isolated from family and community. Even us, their church persecuted for their condition,’ he explains. One woman, whose family, on learning of her condition, set fire to her home to drive her out. ‘It’s not only the disease that kills,’ Rev Harold continues, ‘but the loneliness.’
As a result of his training Chitera community and the local church is changing dramatically. Following the example of Jesus with the lepers the church members have begun to welcome people living with HIV and are providing practical care and support for them. On a recent visit to Malawi I attended a church service and was present as the collection was gathered from the congregation. This was like nothing you would see in Ireland – someone offered a bar of soap, another a pair of socks, someone else a single egg. It was moving to witness people with next to nothing giving whatever they could for those suffering from AIDS.
Inspiring as the image is, however, it touches on something much deeper and confirms the incredible potential of the church to bring healing and hope.
A mother’s hope
The church conducted a voluntary HIV testing and counselling clinic as part of their Sunday service. 176 people came to be tested. One of them was Evelyn who was pregnant with her first child. ‘I was very afraid when I found out’ she says softly ‘I thought there was no hope for me and my child, in Malawi this is a death sentence.’ However a ‘mother buddy’ (a church volunteer) was able to take her to the health clinic on a bicycle ambulance so that she could be provided with anti-retroviral medicines. ‘I don’t think I could have gotten there without her’ says Evelyn as she reflects on the hour’s walk to the nearest clinic.
Throughout Evelyn‘s pregnancy the mother buddy provided continuous support and prayer. The anti-retroviral medicines can have some horrible side-effects including nausea and vomiting and without encouragement pregnant women often stop taking them. But Evelyn persevered and gave birth to a baby boy Ztembele, which means ‘thanks’.
Recently Ztembele was old enough to be tested for HIV and to the delight of his mother Evelyn he was negative. ‘Without the medicines, my mother buddy and my church I would be telling a different story today’ says Evelyn. She has decided that she wants to be trained as a mother buddy so she can share her experiences and help mothers in her situation.
Today, in Chitera there has been only one burial for an AIDS victim in the last six months. Behind this dramatic turnaround is the loving care and dedication of a network of church volunteers, led by Rev Harold and inspired by Jesus.
A future free from HIV
Such success has not gone unnoticed. Tearfund Ireland has secured three years funding from the Irish Government towards reducing the incidence of HIV transmission from mother to child, a significant initiative in a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Over the next three years we plan to test 6,500 mothers and will be providing ‘mother buddy’ support to the HIV-positive mothers. As a result hundreds of children will be born with a chance at life. Evelyn is looking forward to her opportunity to give something back to her people – her way of giving thanks.
The Malawi HIV project is only partially funded by the Irish government and will require your support to ensure its success.
- €18 will enables us to provide emergency transport for a pregnant woman
- €35 enables us to provide HIV testing at a church
- €150 will enable us to support a HIV positive pregnant mother and prevent her child being born with HIV
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