Malawi: Church Body Engages Sexually Active Men, Boys On HIV Testing

Everyone knows about HIV, what causes it, and how it is transmitted - and that it has no cure. But the biggest question is, does everybody know their status?

Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) Board Member Reverend Edina Navaya, who inspected activities in TAs Njema and Nthiramanja this week, said MCC as the church is concerned with the holistic growth of people, and HIV is an important area of focus.

"We look at both the spiritual and physical wellbeing of our people. Sickly people cannot praise their God, and can also not work to provide for their needs. With this project we realise that men and boys need to know their status so they can plan their lives better. Prayer without action is useless.

"Also prayers that asks those on HIV treatment to stop ARVs are wrong. Religious leaders must encourage our people to test, take medication, and adhere to that medication. Only then can all people praise their maker with good health and prosperity."

M'theto Lungu, Programs Manager at the ecumenical umbrella body, says this is why the faith based organisation is targeting men and boys to do something worthwhile about their lives.

"Research has shown that men and boys barely go to access HIV services, including testing and treatment. And men, unlike women, mostly do not adhere to HIV medications as well."

MCC, supported by Palladium Group with funding from USAID's Pepfar initiative, lately targeted men and boys working at tea estates, and other occupations including tailoring, teaching, bicycle taxis, poultry businessmen, welders, tinsmiths, grocery, music burners, photographers, and others to engage them on their HIV standing and relative behaviours.

"We realise that the men working in this field often have extra or readily available disposable cash which encourages risky behaviour as far as HIV is concerned.

In the tea and plumbing estates, risky behaviour is eminent fortnightly when workers get their dues.

Men queue up to pay for sexual debts. Up the mountains mother's send young and little girls to sell snacks and food to workers and end up being sexually involved.

At trading centres women deliberately entice bicycle taxis operators to pay through sex.

These are some of the many behaviours we have discovered which is threatening the lives of children and women, and also countering the fight against AIDs in Mulanje district," explains Lungu.

Lungu and his team visited Limbuli and Chisambo Estates under Eastern Province Malawi (EPM) limited in TA Njema, and men and boys around Chonde trading centres in TA Nthiramanja at Mombo CCAP and Malo primary schools.

Estate Managers at both the estates said the visit was important because the workers needed to be reminded that one's health is ones riches.

"When you know you status you plan your life both at home and at work. You work better, feel motivated, and also prosper in all areas. We are happy that you have brought us encouragement to know our status, get on ARTs when found positive, and also follow the prescription to the letter.

"The Self-Test kits you have also brought will encourage most of is and our families to go for testing, beyond the kits, for confirmation at the hospital," said Peter Kimu at Chisambo Estate.

Blessings Mwakabaka of Limbuli Estate said: "I am happy that you chose us for your interventions. You are always welcome to work with us around testing.

"Most of our worries around testing, treatment, and challenges to adherence due to side effects have all been arraigned. We are more informed now and am happy that almost all of our employees have taken the kits to self Test.

Mwakabaka said the project will go a long way in ensuring good health and productivity.

"I encourage our workers to get this message to their fellow employees, families, and friends," he said.

The Health Coordinator at EPM, Verstino Kampango said she was excited that MCC targeted them.

"Most organisations shun the estates and yet this is where many people, especially men are found. This awareness, particularly targeting men and boys, is very welcome here at the estates and I am sure the entire TA Njema and Mulanje district," he said.

He added: "We are more excited because MCC is working with the District Health Office and Baylor Malawi and other stakeholders in fighting HIV."

The ART and HTS Coordinators from Mulanje DHO, Mrs Monica Katuli and Mr. Kondwani Chikoti emphasized that health facilities in the two TAs were doing their best to work with organisations such as MCC in getting men and boys to testing, taking treatment, and adhering to the treatment.

"Figures for men and boys are now rising at our health facilities following MCC's interventions. It is good that through Messages of Hope, which utilises scripture to encourage men and boys to access HIV services from religious leaders and faith communities," said Chikoti.

MCC has trained religious HIV Self-Test Distributors so that the communities can access the kits within their residential communities.

Other trained cohorts encouraging testing, treatment and adherence through messages of hope, include Expert Clients that work in support groups, Peer Navigators, Men and Boys that reach out to men where they are found, and Stop Violence Against Children (SVAC101) volunteers that look into children's welfare under the Religious Leaders Advise and Inform Men and Boys (AIM) Faith Communities Initiative (FCI) HIV Project.

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