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“1,178 Malawi kwacha. That’s how much I make every day,” Malita stated. “In return, I cut 53 kilos of fresh tea leaves. If I don’t meet the quota, my pay is docked.”
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!”
As I stood in the scenic valley, Malawi’s Mulanji mountains provided 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. It provides several commodities that are rare, even within first-world countries.
A sense of purpose. By 6:30 every morning, and just after taking an antiretroviral tablet provided by EQUIP partner Dignitas, Malita is in the field, beginning her day. Since 2009 she’s been faithfully adhering to one tablet per day. While the ART treatment doesn’t cure AIDS, in nearly 90% of cases it causes viral loads to fall which 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 ART’s my body would be weak and I’d be unable to provide for my family.”
Dignity. Malita proudly exhibited her clay brick home at the edge of the plantation and 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. Because she’s able to work, she’s able to possess a home – and dignity.
Independence. 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 Dignitas, “Funding provided by USAID to the EQUIP consortium will accelerate three components of the World Health Organization’s 90/90/90 program. 90% 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 severe weight loss or other types of 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, led by South African agency Right to Care, provides testing, treatment and care for HIV+ individuals living in 18 countries on four continents, the all-Africa 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.