Malawi Network for People Living with HIV and Aids (Manet+) has reported gains in the HIV response during its 20 years of existence.
Speaking during this year’s International Candlelight Memorial on Sunday in Nkhotakota, where First Lady Gertrude Mutharika was in attendance, Manet+ board chairperson Joyce Mataya said in the two decades the network has lobbied for the introduction of free anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to people living with HIV in the country.
“There is a lot that Manet+ has done. For instance, we have ensured that people living with HIV have access to free medication. Again, [we] have lessened stigma amongst ourselves,” she said.
Mataya said this has led to reduction of deaths caused by HIV and Aids-related illnesses.
She singled out the introduction of the new ARV drug regime in 2013 and establishment of HIV and Aids policies as some of the achievements.
Speakers during the ceremony repeatedly cited poverty as a major factor fuelling stigma against people living with HIV.
UNAids country director Karim Akadiri said economically empowering people living positively with small businesses can reduce stigma because they will fend for themselves.
He said a majority of people who are on ARVs treatment have limited access to nutritional supplements, a thing that ruins their health.
In her remarks, Mutharika said as president of the Organisation of African First Ladies (Oafla), she would advocate for better wellbeing of people living with the virus.
The First Lady said women and children are stigmatised in many societies because of cultural influences.
This year’s event was observed under the theme Ending Aids Together.
A minute of silence was observed in memory of those who died of HIV and Aids. n