The Faces of Success in Malawi
September 1, 2010
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by statistics. I spend a lot of my days in Malawi thinking about them: What do they really mean? Are they accurate? How can we quantifiably improve our work?
That’s why I felt very lucky to attend an event commemorating the Call to Action project here in Malawi
last night. We talked about statistics, of course. The five-year program, supported by a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, has helped more than 203,000 pregnant women in Malawi get tested for HIV.
But what we can sometimes lose sight of, in our hectic daily work, are the individual stories that make all those statistics mean something.
A couple (middle, right) speak about living with HIV.
A couple from Lilongwe spoke at our event last night about their experiences living with HIV. I was struck by their bravery in disclosing their HIV status to a room of 150 strangers, but it also strengthened my resolve to encourage open discussion about the virus. Open discussion, after all, saved their lives. HIV testing for pregnant women at Foundation-supported sites in Malawi went up by over 400% in the last four years. Without access to counseling and testing services at a partner hospital here in Lilongwe, this couple’s children might have been diagnosed with HIV too.
But they weren’t. Both their children were born HIV-free, thanks to both medications that reduce the risk of a mother passing HIV to her infant and healthy breastfeeding techniques that prevent transmission after the baby is born.
The couple’s speech was more than just a heartwarming personal anecdote. It was a lesson in public health for all of us in the room, as they demonstrated not only great personal conviction but an impressive breadth of knowledge about HIV. That’s what makes me certain our work is so valuable. And hearing about their kids living healthy, hopeful, mischief-filled lives? That makes all the statistics worthwhile.
Mara Gordon is a Global Health Corps fellow working with the Foundation's Malawi program.