Malawi 10 Years: 'If I am here to talk to you today, that's because I am receiving treatment'

"Hello. My name is Fred Minandi. I am 42 years old and I am a farmer from Malawi. I am lucky to be one of MSF's patients benefiting from ARVs.

“Malawi has the highest rate of HIV in Africa. Fifteen percent of the adult population is infected. In my village, I see young people who are too sick to work in their gardens and feed their families. People spend huge amounts of money to find medicines that might help their ill family member, but their efforts are in vain. I have seen parents die, leaving orphans to be cared for by elderly people who lack the resources and the hope to provide them a future.

“I got sick in 1997. For four years, sometimes I was better and sometimes I was worse. Finally it became hard for me to work or do anything. I was tested in 2001. I was lucky to live in a place where MSF was just starting ARV treatments. I am one of the first patients to benefit from free treatment in Malawi and if I am here to talk to you about it today, that's because I am receiving treatment.

“Some of you will say that Africans cannot take medicine properly because they don't know how to tell time. I don't have a watch, but I can tell you that since I began my triple therapy, I have never forgotten to take a single dose.

“The MSF nurse took the time to explain to me how these medicines work. She told me that if I wasn't serious about taking them regularly, they would stop working. She told me about the side effects and said that I'd feel better after a while, but that it would be difficult. Today, my life depends completely on this medicine and I won't run the risk of forgetting to take it. My life is important – not just to me – but to my family, my friends and my whole country.

“When I got sick, I knew I was HIV-positive but I never wanted to admit it or talk about it. My neighbors watched me weaken day by day. Of course, they knew what was wrong but no one asked questions. They just gradually stopped coming to see me. Today I am working in my field again, I have gone back to my church and I can feed my family. I feel like I have a future. My neighbors have started coming to see me again, like they did before.

“Now I can talk to my children and tell them that I have AIDS. I tell my neighbors, too. I talk about my illness because I am no longer ashamed and I know that they will not reject me. A person who has AIDS and is very sick scares everyone. But once you are being treated, you feel better, you look better and people don't reject you anymore. I would like to tell you all that treatment is the best weapon against stigmatization. I thought there was no hope for HIV-positive people but the treatment has changed how I see things.

“I believe that providing affordable treatment will also encourage more people to face their HIV-positive status than if nothing were available to them. In Malawi, we use generic medicines from India, which reduces the price. The less expensive the medicine, the less costly the program -- and the more people who can be treated. I hope decision makers will hear us and that we will be able to convince them to give money to buy medicine.

“In conclusion, I would like to appeal to the pharmaceutical laboratories that produce ARVs to reduce the price of their medicine for all poor countries, to our governments to support treatment and seek aid and to the governments of the wealthy countries to give us money so that we can achieve our goals.
“We won't win the fight against HIV/AIDS unless we work together.  This is the first time I have traveled outside of Malawi and it is an unbelievable experience.”