Malawi Woman Wins Award for Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Poverty
Following the death of her husband from AIDS, Malawi nurse Catherine Phiri launched a crusade against the epidemic, an effort that culminated in her reception of the United Nations' Race Against Poverty Award last month. In her home country of Malawi, Phiri works as a consultant on HIV/AIDS and runs a community-based organization called SASO, short for the Salima HIV/AIDS Support Organization. SASO, which aims to provide support for people "suffering not just from AIDS but also from the neglect of a society unschooled about the disease," offers HIV testing, counseling and "moral support" to members of the community. However, SASO lacks funding needed to purchase items ranging from basic supplies such as food to advanced medical equipment. Phiri, the first woman from Malawi to announce that she is HIV-positive, must operate her facility without blood-testing equipment, and often does not have the money to provide meals more than once a week for the 1,500 AIDS orphans under SASO's supervision. "When we have money, we give them food only on Saturday. We are supposed to give them food every day," Phiri said. Antiretroviral drugs cannot be found at Phiri's center -- she does not have basic antibiotics, or even aspirin, to treat opportunistic infections. Phiri said that she instead tries to focus her efforts on counseling individuals with HIV/AIDS and on teaching children about the virus and those living with the disease. Phiri lauded Malawi's new president, Bakili Muluzi, for raising awareness about the disease in the country. While former Malawi President Kamuzu Banda barred public discussion of HIV/AIDS, Muluzi allows the press to focus on the spread of the disease in the country, leading to the revelation that 29 government ministers were HIV-positive. However, Malawi still has "a long way to go" in fighting the epidemic, and Phiri is dedicated to educating the government about the gravity of the disease. "We have been trying to get through to the government. I hope that we will be recognized by being given the award, and that the government will now have something to do with us," she concluded (Crossette, New York Times, 11/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.