Over 500 people living with HIV/AIDS met last Sunday in the rural Neno district of Malawi to support each other as a community in the fight against the disease. “Such togetherness has never been seen in Neno,” said organizer Samson Njolomole, the coordinator of the antiretroviral treatment (ART) program for Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (“partners in health” in the local Chichewa language), PIH’s partner organization in Malawi.

Although similar meetings have been held on a monthly basis near the grounds of the Neno District Hospital since last year, this particular meeting was held in Zalewa—a community located near a major trucking route that has been hit particularly hard by the epidemic. Zalewa is also centrally located for several other villages plagued with high HIV infection rates. Holding this meeting in Zalewa helped make it easier for patients in these communities to participate in the emotional and social support activities featured at the event.

Topics discussed at the meeting included dealing with stigma and discrimination, as well as ways to prevent the spread of the disease. Singing and dancing were also major components of the festivities. Overall, the purpose of the meeting was to help the patient community build a sense of solidarity. Samson compared the overall feeling of the event to a family reunion.
At future meetings, organizers plan to distribute condoms  and introduce voluntary testing and counseling for community members who have not yet been tested for the disease, said Samson.