Our Managing Director has returned from his recent trip to Malawi, where he saw first-hand the impact the ETAF/ Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA) partnership has had on the region. Since 2008, this partnership has been bringing health care to the people of Mulanje and Phalombe districts through the GAIA/Elizabeth Taylor Mobile Health Clinic program. Currently, there are seven mobile health care clinics, which provide access to life-sustaining health care to the 1 million residents in these rural districts.

Malawi has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. According to the National AIDS Commission, Malawi’s prevalence of HIV infection among adults (15-49 years) was estimated at 14% in 2003, translating into almost 900,000 adults living with HIV/AIDS nationally.

Commercial tea plantations are a main source of paid employment for the Mulanje District in Malawi. The highly transient populations there – with many workers returning to their home villages on the weekend – contribute to high rates of HIV infection on the plantations, and in turn, throughout the district.

Since beginning our work with our implementing partner GAIA, and a close collaboration with the Malawi Ministry of Health, our Mobile Health Clinic program has contributed to the 50% drop in HIV/AIDS-related deaths in Malawi overall. Our contribution to this decline is in part thanks to the access to health care being provided by the mobile clinics. Before the program began in 2008, the commute to receive health care in the Mulanje and Phalombe districts was up to a full day’s walk for some, now down to under an hour for all.

ETAF credits much of the Mobile Health Clinic program’s success to our implementing partner, for building trust and developing a strong relationship with the community. Education and effective follow-up are equally important as health care access is for combatting HIV in Malawi. The Mobile Health Clinic program extended their reach even further into the community in 2014, employing community health nurses who travel by motorcycle to monitor adherence of all new HIV cases at home, in between clinic visits.

We had the privilege of meeting Edna, a GAIA Community Follow-Up Officer, during a route riding her motorcycle house to house to homes where community members with HIV live. Edna spends time getting to know the clients on a personal level and makes sure they are adhering to their Antiretroviral Treatment. After losing her sister to AIDS, Edna has made it her mission to help community members living with HIV be treated with dignity.

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the community trust built by GAIA is the Men’s Health Day program. These events occur on Saturday’s when the men are not at work. Men’s Health Days have increased HIV testing by the mobile clinics amongst men by 92%. Because of the stigma associated with HIV in Africa, many men refuse to be tested, often leading to the spread of HIV to their wives and babies still breastfeeding, as well as in utero. These men’s testing days have been encouraged by religious leaders and village chiefs, which is crucial to ending HIV and AIDS stigma amongst African men. Since GAIA staff has implemented the program, the ratio of male to female testing has gone from one man for every five women being tested, to one man to every 2.4 women being tested. ETAF believes this an indicative sign of a shift in attitude.

ETAF also had a chance to see Grassroot Soccer (GRS) programs in action. GRS coaches demonstrated a SKILLZ activity to youth that teaches how the virus works, as well as Antiretroviral Therapy (ARV) education. GRS, a highly successful program supported by ETAF, uses the power of soccer in Africa to teach HIV and AIDS preventions, as well as provide testing to young people. GRS programs are activated all across Malawi, including 20 GAIA villages in the Mulanje district.

In 2008 when the Mobile Health Clinic program was launched, the rate of adults testing HIV-positive was 23%. The rate today, down to 6%, demonstrates the extensive reach the mobile clinics have had in these rural communities.

ETAF’s visit to Malawi was incredibly powerful. We were touched by the community and inspired by the amazing work being provided by the GAIA/Elizabeth Taylor Mobile Clinic staff, and other partners in the region. To view a series of beautiful images documenting the experience, please go to our Facebook page and click through the Malawi albums: https://www.facebook.com/TheElizabethTaylorAIDSFoundation