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 very challenging. She was ill often and always at the hospital as a result. Her doctor advised her to get an HIV test to rule out the chances of the infection. She took the test and 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.”
During the counselling session, Ida was also informed of her high CD4 count, which prior to 2016 meant that she had to wait for her CD4 count to drop before she was eligible to receive treatment.
She left the health center with a heavy heart and went home to disclose to her husband. 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 6 months. A year later, she discovered that she was pregnant again and this time, their family was blessed with their first-born daughter, Mercy.
Ida explains, “We suspected that Mercy was born HIV-positive. We did not know it was possible to have an HIV-negative child from HIV-positive parents. 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 ARV treatment and she continued to adhere to the drugs. In 2010 and 2014, Ida and her husband welcomed Akuzike and Glory their second- and third-born children. As luck would have it, Akuzike and Glory were born after the government of Malawi 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.
Despite these fortunate events, 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 3 days and that was his last battle with the disease,” shares Ida.
Losing her husband took a toll on Ida. She had lost a companion, the father of her children, and the sole breadwinner for the household. A lot changed for the Matiki household after 2016, their living conditions worsened and food became scarce. Her children all 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 looked for menial labor in her area, which she undertook to the best of her abilities to provide for her children.
In April 2017, during Ida’s monthly drug refill visits, her clinician noticed the dire state Ida was in. He referred her to One Community for further assistance.
Ida went to see One Community’s referral and linkage facilitator who linked her to a Community Resource Person (CRP) in her area. A few days later, CRP Robert Kang’ombe visited her. CRP 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 affirmed the need for HIV education, psychosocial support, economic strengthening and education support. He sent the report to his supervisor Community Engagement Facilitator (CEF) Daisy Pagani.
Two days later, the CEF visited the household to conduct index testing and provide further counselling and education. At 13-years-old, Mercy was found to be HIV-positive, while 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 had 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.
CEF Daisy 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 individuals have shown great improvement as far as their mental health is concerned.”
“When I told Mercy about her status, she wasn’t very sad. 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.
With consent from Mercy’s mother, CRP Robert informed the area’s Child Protection Worker on the education support needs of the Matiki children. Together, they are working to find appropriate schooling options for the children. Currently, 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, 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 states with much 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,” Ida concludes.