While governments and medical experts try to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, leaders in various nations are promoting behavior change among the citizens. In Malawi church leaders, traditional leaders, politicians, and non-governmental organizations have joined forces in a bid to help combat HIV/AIDS. They are promoting behavior change.
Queen Elizabeth Central hospital is the largest in the heart of the commercial capital city of Blantyre. This hospital also acts as a referral for major medical complications from almost all 12 districts in the southern region of Malawi. While the hospital gets limited resources, the major problem facing the hospital today is HIV / AIDS.
Dr Ibrahim Idana is the hospital director. He says the hospital has over 400 clients who buy the Anti-retroviral drugs from the hospital every month. But the hospital is registering a minimum of Five new clients every week.
He says, "I can mention here that the number of clients is growing. And there will be a time in the near future when the number of clients will overwhelm us and we need to increase the amount of money that is revolving, because at the moment we have only MK500, 000 kwacha that is revolving in the drug fund."
Dr. Idana adds the hospital has limited resources to cater to all the patients. He reveals that in most of the wards, particularly medical wards or TB wards, over 60 percent of the patients are HIV positive. He says HIV prevalence is high even in the children's ward.
While the government agrees that the problems of HIV and Aids are increasing steadily, there are initiatives in place to reduce and fight the pandemic considering the resources at hand. But due to an influx of HIV and Aids patients admitted to the hospital, the shortage of drugs to prolong life of the infected people is worrisome.
Aaron Mhango is the Coordinator for Blantyre district in the ministry of Health and population. He says some people are complaining that the drugs are too expensive. He says although the price of the drugs has dropped from 150 U-S dollars to 22 dollars due to government subsidies - not everyone living with HIV/Aids is able to buy them. He only wishes that the government would do something to further reduce the price.
But with Aids claiming many lives including the professionals who could assist in the development of the nation, and the youth, who are regarded as future leaders of the country, what do ordinary people say could be done to stop the spread of the disease?
Comments from a Malawi man:"abstinence is the best thing that anyone can ever do. There is no alternative for that …people should know God. Once they fear God they also fear to commit all sorts of sins...especially to we young Malawians, we have to be given a very good civic education on the dangers of the disease. Just because of the poverty in the country and we as young Malawians should be given something to do."
Some people also believe that voluntary blood testing is a way forward to deal with the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"I was tested in 1994 at Nkhata-bay hospital when I was in form 2. It was then that I was found HIV positive. I believe I can live longer and share my experiences with others so that they too can learn from me." (2nd voice) "If we don’t say anything, then we’ve got this virus around us, we end up dying in vain for no reason. But if we take the opportunity to educate people about the dangers of HIV/aids it will help a lot of people ...and if even one of you goes out to know your status today that encourages other people that they can also do that, that will be good. I find it necessary to go for an HIV test." With the epidemic raging, many agree that the decisive step is behavioral change. It is this aspect that the government is trying to encourage. In Blantyre, the government has erected big billboards along the major and busy streets with HIV and Aids messages asking people to change their behavior.
One of the popular messages of HIV/aids in Malawi is on the big billboard. It has been placed in the major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe. It reads and I quote “Aids is killing Africa. Malawians change your behavior now. Let us save our country”
And with the message beginning to sink in people’s minds, it is hoped that behavioral change in the country will also take off ground.
In Malawi, a country with 12 million people, it is reported that one out of every ten people is infected with the virus that causes AIDS.