“The nets have improved. My life has improved. Life is good!”
John Connelly of the EQUIP Right to Care country program in Malawi had the opportunity to interview Felix Mnthali Mswayo in Kambiro-Mbiro, on the shore of Lake Malawi, near Chitimba Village (at the base of Livingsotnia, Malawi). This story of hope must be spread far and wide on World AIDS Day 2017 and beyond to showcase the positive impact that USAID, PEPFAR, EQUIP and local implementation partners are making on people living with HIV in Malawi.
I spotted Felix late in the afternoon, mending nets. He was preparing to set off that evening, as he does every evening, for the next catch of a small, silver fish called Usipa. The dried fish are a staple in this northern region of Malawi, where they’re consumed with nsima, a starch derived from maize that has the consistency of heavy dough.
“I depart around 10 each night in that wooden boat,” he smiled as he proudly pointed toward the blue vessel. “The boats cost around 120,000 kwacha ($175) and each night we average around 1,500 ($2) of fish, which our wives dry and sell at market. It’s not much but we make enough money to feed ourselves without being a burden on others.”
Seven years ago, this story would have had a much different outcome if it hadn’t been for USAID’s PEPFAR program. Under President George W. Bush the program was started and continued throughout President Obama’s administration as well. The program is implemented by many partners around the world, including EQUIP, a consortium of five African partners based in South Africa but operating in 18 various countries around the world. The Trump administration is also fully onboard and hopes are high that following a strict daily regimen of consuming one ARV tablet will reduce viral loads so that two things happen: one’s health is maintained and that HIV is not spread to others via sexual activity nor to children born to HIV+ mothers.
“In 2010, my wife and I were both ill and losing weight so we went to the clinic for a check-up. It was determined that we both tested positive for HIV. Two weeks later, we began taking ARV tablets and soon our weight and ability to work returned! I began fishing again with improved nets and improved health. Our lives have not only returned to normal, but actually improved. Life is good!”
At this, Felix dug into a small bag he carries at all times and produced a bottle of ARV tablets. “Here they are,” he grinned with a thumb’s up! “I don’t know how it all works, but I do know the American people have been a good helper to the people of Malawi. Thank you. If we didn’t have such medicine, we would have perished long ago, but now we can feed ourselves and lead a normal life. Which is improving!”