12 December 2017
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Hand of man in PMTCT

Written by  Yamikani Yapuwa
Village Headman Bwetse II stressing a point - Pic by Yamikani Yapuwa Village Headman Bwetse II stressing a point - Pic by Yamikani Yapuwa

BLANTYRE, November 20, 2017: There are no ordinary men in society. They are men on mission and with a purpose to save humanity.

Village head Bwetse II of Traditional Authority (T/A) Phambala in Ntcheu and Sebastiano Galantiya from Nthondo Village in T/A Nthondo in Ntchisi are iconic figures in their respective communities.

The two, together with fellow male support group members, have dedicated themselves to championing the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) among women.

They are both living with the virus and receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) at Kapeni and Nthondo Health Centres respectively.

But their status does not stop them from venturing into a noble cause of seeing children in their areas born free from HIV from their positive parents.

“I am a client expert assisting doctors at Kapeni Rural Hospital in mentoring pregnant women who are HIV positive in making sure that they are accessing medical care,” says the village head Bwetse.

Since he was found HIV positive in 2008, Bwetse has been on the fore front encouraging people to go for HIV testing and counselling (HTC).

Together with other HIV positive men, Bwetse track and trace HIV pregnant women in villages and encourage them to seek necessary care and support in order to reduce cases of mother to child transmission of the virus.

Dereck Mwanamayi, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) Clerk at Nthondo Health Centre, says the initiative by men like Bwetse is bearing fruits.

So far, the health facility is registering 100 percent success with all babies born from HIV positive mothers being born without the virus.

“These men have scaled up the tracking and tracing of HIV positive people.  We are receiving more cases of pregnant women coming to access proper health care,” Mwanamayi says.

The process, Mwanamayi adds, starts with giving mothers treatment once diagnosed HIV positive at antenatal.

After the baby is born, mothers are advised to bring the child at six weeks for early infant diagnosis and a rapid test is conducted in the first and second year after birth.

For 45-year-old Sebastiano Galantiya, his story in championing PMTCT is also the same.  

“After the child is born, we continue monitoring the mothers by making sure that they, together with their babies, are adhering to treatment,” Galantiya says.

So far, he has managed to reach out to several women in his area.

Rhoda Kambalame, 37, is one testimony of the support from Galantiya and the hospital.

“I have managed to give birth to two children who are HIV negative because of their advice,” says Kambalame from Nthondo Village in Ntchisi.

She adds that the PMTCT initiative by men like Galantiya gave her the courage to get tested and receive proper health care.

The mentor men like Galantiya and village head Bwetse are really saving the day. But they are not alone in this cause.

Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), a nongovernmental organisation promoting sexual reproductive health among the youth, is also giving a helping hand in the PMTCT initiative.

The organisation provides capacity building to support groups championing PMTCT in Ntchisi and Ntcheu. This is done through its project called Investing for Impact against HIV/TB with funding from Action Aid through Christian Aid.

Yoneco’s executive director Mc Bain Mkandawire says the idea behind the project is to increase uptake and adherence of PMTCT drugs among pregnant and lactating women as well as the participation of key players like men in promoting the same.

However, Mkandawire notes that more work is needed to promote awareness about PMTCT among men who are always in denial.

“There is need to integrate services with what men are doing so that they can access information about PMTCT and talk about it with their wives from an informed point of view,” Mkandawire says.

Malawi introduced the PMTCT of HIV Program in 2001, which was initially piloted at Embangweni Mission Hospital and Thyolo District Hospital. The national PMTCT of HIV Program was official launched in 2003. 

Ministry of Health indicates that Malawi is registering strides in the PMTCT of HIV with more than 80 percent HIV free babies born from HIV positive mothers.

Furthermore, the country has become a role model where other countries are now coming to learn best practices in managing PMTCT of HIV.

Hardly can men stand up against popular beliefs that count out male participation in health related matters like safe motherhood.

For Rhoda Kambalame, people like Village Head Bwetse II and Sebastiano Galantiya represent a new breed of men proving traditional perception wrong.

“Communities admire them, they are heroes because they are saving lives which were previously being lost easily,” Kambalame says.

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