Turning page on stigma

Fatch Kalembo.
Fatch Kalembo.

The 35-year-old from Mzuzu, Malawi, hopes to change the way children living with the virus in his home country are cared for by promoting their psycho-|social wellbeing.

He plans to do this by developing a series of children’s books to inform HIV positive children about the illness.

It will also teach adults how to approach the task of telling their children they have the virus.

Mr Kalembo said there were more than 100,000 children under 14 living with HIV in Malawi.

He said a great emphasis was placed on managing the virus through medication, but the childrens’ psycho-social wellbeing was neglected.

‘Most of these children reach adolescence without knowing that they have HIV,’ Mr Kalembo said.

‘This has a great impact on their lives in terms of adherence to HIV medications, planning for their future and dealing with stigma and discrimination, which is common in Malawi.’

Mr Kalembo will create six age-|specific books that will be developed in line with the cognitive and emotional development of the children.

‘The books will provide important information (in the form of pictures, storytelling, songs and words in vernacular language) that children and their primary caregivers need to know about HIV and its treatment,’ he said.

‘The books will also provide information on psychosocial problems associated with HIV and how to deal with them.

‘In addition, the books will contain information on how children can positively adjust to HIV infection.’

Malawi’s orthodox views on contraception, and a shortage of anti-viral drugs that prevent the transmission of the disease between mother and child, are why more children are diagnosed with HIV.

Growing up in Malawi, Mr Kalembo saw first-hand the effect of HIV and he plans to make HIV awareness his life goal.

‘It is my hope that if the project is implemented it will make a significant contribution to the psychosocial adjustment of children who are living with HIV in Malawi,’ he said.

‘A secondary benefit will be reduction of the stigma and discrimination currently associated with the disease in Malawi.’