|On 26 May, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaks with community-based home care volunteer women at a childcare centre that works with orphans, vulnerable and women experiencing property dispossesion in the town Domasi, near Zomba, Malawi.|
By Thomas Nybo
LILONGWE, Malawi, 27 May 2005 - UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is visiting a number of critical UNICEF-sponsored projects in Malawi as part of a three-country African tour, which included visits to Soweto, South Africa, and Swaziland. In Malawi, Ms. Veneman focused on the HIV/AIDS crisis, spending time with children and women whose lives have been affected by the virus, and those who are trying to help them cope with it.
Malawi has an extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 14.2 per cent of people age 15 to 49 (source: SOWC) and accounts for some 70 per cent of hospital deaths. Some 500,000 children under age 17 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, many of them now cared for by relatives who are already under economic hardship.
Ms. Veneman visited Bottom Hospital in Lilongwe, where nearly 17 per cent of the pregnant women who visit the ante-natal clinic test positive for HIV. UNICEF provides the hospital with technical support: developing care guidelines, training manuals and other communications materials. UNICEF also supplies drugs such as Nevirapine, HIV testing kits, protective gloves and other medical supplies. The staff at Bottom told Ms. Veneman that despite the challenges of their jobs, they enjoy helping prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to child. "I feel good just because I make friends with these women and I am able to advise them what to do with their problems,” said Nurse Rose Mdesa.
Another stop on Ms. Veneman’s trip was to the town of Domasi in southern Malawi, where she visited a community-based childcare centre. Women volunteering at the centre spoke with Ms. Veneman about the grave situation facing children in Malawi due to HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty and drought.
Here in Malawi - as in other southern African countries - HIV/AIDS combines with food shortages to perpetuate a vicious cycle: increased malnutrition weakens people infected with HIV’s resistance to opportunistic infections, thereby reducing the workforce available for agricultural and other work. The centre not only cares for children affected by the virus, but also offers help to orphans and women experiencing property dispossession.
Ms. Veneman praised the work of the community-based programmes. "We've had the opportunity to see a number of very innovative programs, particularly these community-based programs," said Ms.Veneman. "Each one we see is a little different. Each one is providing tremendous support from the communities themselves for this terrible, terrible problem of orphans and vulnerable children in particular. It's really, really been very difficult for so many of these areas because they've been so hit with the HIV/AIDS crisis."
27 May 2005:
UNICEF Executive Director visits hospitals and care centres in Malawi.