Feature story |

HIV: Stories from Malawi

Photograph by Isabel Corthier
Health workers analyzing the images on Lita abdomen in female ward at Nsanje District hospital.

Gerrald and Lita

Lita and her father Gerrald live in Suwali, Nsanje.

“My name is Gerrald and my daughter Lita is 25 years old. She started getting sick in July 2019, so we took her to the hospital. There, she was tested and found to be HIV positive. When we heard about the results, the first thing we had to do was learn to accept it. 

Gerald, Lita’s father walking Lita from the toilet in the female ward at Nsanje District Hospital. Lita Gerald is a 20 year old lady that is HIV positive with history of having challenges in adhering to treatment. Lita is someone who was once on ARV treatment then she had to disengage for two months before getting reengaged again through Nsanje District Hospital’s Rapid Assessment Unit (RAU).
Photograph by Isabel Corthier

She was advised to start taking antiretroviral drugs immediately. But when she was discharged, she went back to her husband and, unfortunately, stopped taking the medication. As a result, she started getting sick again. I was really devastated. She is my first-born child. She made me a father and defines who I am.

Before we came to the hospital, Lita couldn’t walk without support. If she went to the toilet, we had to hold her. They had to drain the fluids from the stomach and she couldn’t sit down.  But now there is a great improvement. She is able to walk on her own without any support. 

Lita and her husband are separated now. He left her the moment she started getting sick. He abandoned her. Together they had three children, but the eldest and the third-born passed away. In fact, the third-born child passed away in September this year. The second-born, who is three years old, is alive.  I want to bring her here to the hospital to be tested, so that we know if she is HIV positive or negative. 

When Lita is discharged, I will make sure that she doesn’t have to do any heavy household chores. I will provide all the necessary support and love. 

Lita is a lady that is HIV positive with history of having challenges in adhering to treatment. Lita is someone who was once on ARV treatment then she had to disengage for two months before getting reengaged again through Nsanje District Hospital’s Rapid Assessment Unit (RAU).
Photograph by Isabel Corthier

She will not default on her medication again, as I will be around. I’ll make sure that when she wakes up, I’m there and she takes her drugs. The same with the evening dose; I will make sure that before she goes to sleep, she has taken her drugs.

Lita

“I’m not feeling well at all. The challenge is that, if I eat something, my stomach balloons. I miss a lot from home – I miss my daughter and the food.
When I go home, I will take my medication every day. When the medication is finished, I will go back to the health facility for the refills.” 

Manfred Luka

“I come from Chitomeni Village and I am a fisherman. During one of my usual fishing errands, I was having trouble breathing. I had chest pain. When I realised that my health was deteriorating, I went to Ndamera Health Centre.

At the health centre, the staff said I wasn’t well. When they asked me if I had been tested for HIV and other diseases, I said no. They said I should have some tests so that they could know what was bothering me. I was found to have two conditions: I was HIV positive and had tuberculosis. I was told that I needed to be referred to the district hospital.

Manfred is an advanced HIV patient diagnosed with TB referred to Nsanje district hospital from Ndamera Health Centre.
Photograph by Isabel Corthier

An ambulance took me to Nsanje District Hospital, where I stayed for almost two weeks. During that time, my health improved. The pain all over my body disappeared. I was discharged to go back to Chitomeni, where I fish. But after nearly nine days, my condition started to worsen again. Each time I tried to breathe, I struggled. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t walk. Even drinking a cup of water was a struggle. I was coughing a lot and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even lift my leg or walk. 

I told my colleague, Joe, at the fishing dock: ‘Joe, I can’t breathe. When I was discharged, I was fine but now I can’t breathe. Please find a bicycle and take me to the health facility’. 

It’s a long way to the health centre, almost two hours by bicycle and on foot.

At Ndamera, after assessments, an ambulance took me back to Nsanje District Hospital. Now that I’m here, I am feeling better. I am able to breathe and speak.  

I’ve been here for three days. My health has improved. I am now able to wash my clothes. I can wash myself. Of course, I am not totally healed; I still struggle to breathe but what MSF is doing in collaboration with government is commendable.”

Soon after this interview Manfred Lukas’ condition deteriorated. In the beginning of November, he sadly passed away at Nsanje District Hospital.