Engaging People Living with HIV
Over the past several decades, support groups for people living with HIV and AIDs (PLHIVs) in Malawi have remained an important avenue through which PLHIVs discuss and develop strategies for coping with the effects of HIV on their mental and physical health and relationships with their families and communities. The National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi (NAPHAM) oversees and provides technical support to these groups across the country.
BRIDGE II partnered with NAPHAM to implement BRIDGE II transformative activities through its support groups in Southern Malawi. Trained Facilitators took their support groups through a number of different, highly interactive activities using BRIDGE II Transformative Tools: The Planting Our Tree of Hope Toolkit, The Tasankha Discussion Guide and the Journey of Hope Toolkit. The Journey of Hope Toolkit and the Tasankha Discussion Guide equipped members with general knowledge on HIV and AIDS and other related topics. The Planting Our Tree of Hope Tool Kit took the discussions further and addressed more pertinent issues affecting PLHIVs on a daily basis: disclosure, HIV treatment, positive prevention, discordance of HIV status between sexual partners, and stigma and discrimination. Groups also listened to Chenicheni Nchiti? every week and discussed the issues highlighted on the radio program in depth. BRIDGE II additionally trained some support group members on how to use interactive drama to disseminate HIV prevention messages. Use of interactive drama helped PLHIVs to easily reach their fellow community members with key HIV prevention messages. For example, PLHIVs demonstrated through drama their situation and the impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives and how this derails efforts in the fight against HIV.
Anecdotally, project staff and the trained support group facilitators found that after engaging with PLHIV, BRIDGE II inspired them, their sexual partners, and their families to adapt and maintain positive behaviors that prevent the transmission of HIV, reduce stigma and discrimination, and help PLHIVs to live positively. Additionally, after facilitating small group discussions with fellow HIV positive individuals for some time, facilitators scaled up interventions and conducted outreach activities in their communities with people who are not members of their support groups using the Journey of Hope Toolkit. This helped in normalizing discussions around HIV and reduced stigma toward PLHIVs in their communities.
- In total, 617 people were trained in group facilitation, and implemented BRIDGE II activities in 24 support groups, reaching 144,400 people.
- Anecdotal reports indicate that these efforts promoted awareness and openness around HIV, which contributed to a decrease in stigma and discrimination.
- Support group members testified to overcoming fear of rejection by spouses, family members and friends; others comfortably disclosed their HIV status to people whom they initially feared, many of whom are now their main source of support.
- Many PLHIVs now say they want to invest in their future, something they couldn’t imagine when they first learned of their HIV positive status.