Bike Messenger of Hope
Paolo Kenias is a maize farmer living in Tambala, Malawi. He is quite fit as a result of his farm work as well as the many kilometers he logs every week on his bicycle as an expert HIV client for the Mayani Health Centre.
Paolo is grateful for his good health and for every breath that he takes. Twelve years ago, he suffered from debilitating symptoms that made him feverish, weak, and gasping for air. He figured that he was within weeks of death. Paolo’s wife gave up on him and left with their four children.
Paolo had been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), but he suspected that he was also HIV-positive. An HIV test confirmed his suspicion, and he was started on antiretroviral therapy. Soon he was back on his feet.
Paolo’s brush with death sparked a commitment to deliver hope to others in his village.
Last year, he was able to officially join the ranks of the health workers who saved his life.
He was chosen to be an expert client by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), which supports the district hospital. Paolo was trained to provide HIV education and counseling to his peers, most of whom are related to him through blood or marriage. Community health workers like Paolo play a vital role in expanding health care. They provide one-on-one support to patients and free up medical staff so that patients receive more personal care. As members of the community, they are better able to understand and overcome reluctance among some clients to access HIV services.
Paolo volunteers three days a week at the hospital, assisting staff and clients. Two days a week, he travels the dirt roads of the district on a bicycle provided by EGPAF to locate HIV patients who have missed appointment.
“The distances here are very far and it is mostly hilly,” says Paolo. “So the bicycle makes it possible for me to get to the people.”
“When I approach clients, I tell them my personal story,” says Paolo. “It is not easy to get a man tested and for him to accept and come out in the open. I make sure that men know that they are responsible for their families. I tell them that the decisions that they make in life are also decisions for their families.”
Although Paolo was abandoned by his wife when he was on his deathbed, he has since remarried to another HIV-positive woman, Elenisa, whom he met through their HIV support groups. He models resilience and hope to his peers.
I feel like I have a contribution to make because I possess knowledge about HIV. I can save someone just by sharing the information that I have.
“I am proud that I am here. I had a death illness. The fact that I was saved by medication makes me want to reach out and save others.”