“1,178 Malawi kwacha. That’s how much I make every day,” Ms. Malita Misivisi stated. “In return, I cut 53 kilos of fresh tea leaves.”
For $1.60, this HIV+ mother of four, harvests 116 pounds of tea, tossing it over her shoulder into a homemade basket strapped to her back, every day. “During the day a truck comes three times to collect what we’re carrying. They tally the weight to ensure we’re hitting our target – a full ticket. Sometimes we’ll have (30 or 40 pounds) of tea on our back. You can imagine we’re happy to see that truck coming!”
John Connelly, Acting Country Director of EQUIP Right to Care Malawi, stood in the scenic valley, with Malawi’s Mulanji mountains providing a stunning backdrop. “I was simultaneously inspired and distressed. How could this woman be so positive with the heavy burden of raising four children on such a wage? What can one buy for 1,178 kwacha? Of course it buys the very bare necessities, food and clothes, but in reality, that small income purchases so much more,” Connelly said.
A sense of purpose
By 6:30 every morning, and just after taking an antiretroviral tablet provided by EQUIP implementing partner Dignitas, Malita is in the field. Since 2009, she’s been faithfully adhering to her regimen of one tablet a day. While the antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment doesn’t cure AIDS, in nearly 90% of cases it causes viral loads to fall which keeps people healthy and prevents the disease from being passed on to others. Patients are able to maintain an active life. “I’ve been working on the tea estate for three years. Without the tablet my body would be weak and I’d be unable to provide for my family,” said Malita.
Malita invited John Connelly into her clay brick home at the end of the plantation in a remote village in Malawi, proudly exhibiting the space. She then broke into a smile as she posed with two of her daughters. While the house is subsidized by the company for which she works, Malita has earned it. Malita is able to work, possess a home – and maintain her dignity.
Steady income has enabled Malita to progress from her former vulnerable state to that of being self-empowered. Ten years ago, most people with HIV would face a shortened life, relying on family for basic needs. In such a state, patients become susceptible to many forms of neglect and exploitation. Adhering to a strict regimen of ART breaks this helpless status and enables one to stand on her own.
According to Gabriel Mateyu, the deputy health program manager of EQUIP implementing partner, Dignitas, “funding provided by USAID to the EQUIP consortium will accelerate three components of the UNAIDS WHO 90-90-90 program. Ninety percent of HIV+ individuals will know their status; 90% who know their status will adhere to a daily treatment of ART, and 90% on treatment will have reduced viral loads – meaning their quality of life will remain at its current state. No longer will health issues plague HIV patients as in years past. My message for the general public is this: get tested and start treatment now. If you wait, you will suffer. You’ll lose your health, then your job and finally your dignity.”
While the EQUIP program provides testing, treatment and care for HIV+ individuals living in 18 countries on four continents, the EQUIP consortium of five partners delivers so much more.
Purpose, dignity and independence are reflected by smiles on thousands of faces around the world. Malita Misivisi, working in a remote Malawi village, providing for her children, is living proof.