EVER HEARD OF PrEP? ITS NOT HIV VACCINE, BUT CAN SAVE YOU

It has been a while since I last posted an article. But It’s all good and I am so excited that I am finally at it again.

A month ago, a colleague from my office asked me to attend a certain media training on his behalf. I was excited to be part of the training because I knew it had something to do with health and as a professional journalist, I sensed it was an opportunity to learn further how to report on the subject professionally.

It was hence an honor to be part of the group and talk about HIV and AIDS because HIV and AIDS remains a major health concern in Malawi with new infections reaching 33,000 in 2019 (according to the Malawi National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS 2020-2025). Thankfully, there is a biomedical intervention called oral PrEP that can greatly help us reduce new infections

To begin, I first came across the word PrEP in 2015 back when I was pursuing my journalism diploma during a lesson on HlV and AIDS reporting class. In case you have no idea of what Prep is, then this article is for you.

PrEP is a short form for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis –a form of ARV drugs but one consumed by HIV negative persons to prevent the acquisition of HIV.

As I have learnt, taken on a daily basis, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV acquisition from sex or injection drug use but is much less effective when it is not taken consistently.

But prEP is not a vaccine. Its designed to be taken when one is at risk of acquiring HlV prior to exposure. If one’s risk of getting HlV infection becomes low because of changes in their lives,one may choose to stop taking prEP.

Perhaps, the question might be just how good is the drug? Well, pretty good, if you trust the scientists. According to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. The margin for error, for lack of a better word, apparently, is that slim.

Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily. However, PrEP does not protect against STIs or prevent pregnancies, so don’t get carried away. It is quite important therefore to use PrEP as a combination prevention package with other existing interventions such as condoms and VMMC.

There is a bit of history about the use of PrEP in Malawi that I learnt as well at the training. PrEP was provided to HIV-negative people as part of demonstration studies in two districts of Lilongwe and Blantyre.

In Lilongwe, the study was implemented by Lighthouse Trust, which targeted adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). In Blantyre, the study was led by Pakachere Institute for Health Development and Communication and the study participants were female sex workers. As of now, PrEP has not been rolled out nationally in Malawi.

I was so curious about this topic and I decided to talk to someone who could testify about this and luckily I found one.

 A sex worker, whose real name I shall conceal but shall only identify as Sharon, from Area 25 residential township in Lilongwe, has been a regular user of the drug and speaks highly of its effectiveness.

She told me: “I was introduced to this drug last year and I was part of a study to find out if the drug really works. So first of all they tested my HIV status to find if I was negative then I was given the drug and instructions that I should follow.”

Sharon, however, further explained to me that during the first week of taking the drug, she experienced some side effects like nausea, vomiting, headache and when she visited the hospital she was told it is normal and there was nothing wrong with it.

“I was taking the pill each and every day while doing my work every night, without protection sometimes, with different men and when time came for me to get tested again if the drug really worked I was found negative and that proved the drug worked. Since I am at risk of getting HIV with the work I do, I have been taking the pill everyday ever since to protect myself from the virus. I encourage everyone who knows they are at risk of getting HIV to visit a near clinic and ask about prep and they will be helped,” she recalled.

Although praising PrEP’s effectiveness in preventing HIV, Sharon is quick to remind everyone that as a sex worker it does not protect her from STDs or pregnancy hence she is forced to use some contraceptive methods including condoms.

PrEP was endorsed in the National Policy in 2018, however, the PrEP guidelines have yet to be approved.

AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition Fellow _Chisomo Chaweza

AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition Fellow Chisomo Chaweza said the Constitution, under the bill of rights, mandates Malawi to make accessible health services to its people. The delay in approving PrEP guidelines directly delays the roll out of PrEP, an intervention that other African countries such as Kenya, eSwatini and South Africa are already implementing at larger scale to achieve the goal of eliminating HIV by 2030.

He said: “I call for the speedy approval of the PrEP guidelines so that we can protect many lives. This is especially important now, as we are faced with covid-19, another pandemic that has claimed many lives. Let us not lose the gains we have already made on HIV. Access to HIV prevention services is a human rights issue.”

IT’S OKAY TO LAMENT ON CHANGED PLANS DURING THIS PANDEMIC.

So many things have changed in a minute and everyone around the world is trying so hard to adapt to this new norm. Not really loving the processes as it was never anticipated. It’s just something that has got everyone by surprise. No one will even ask what I am talking about, for all of us have been affected by the new Novel virus.

It’s okay to lament

News broke forth on the 4th of April, 2019 and the announcement of the first reported case was made in my country, Malawi. Since then we have had some other cases being reported as well and things are getting worse globally. Sitting down yesterday, I was contemplating on the whole situation, I was so afraid because I felt like I am at war. It is really scary and I know many of us are in this mode. With lots of questions and less or no answers at all.

I keep on feeling like I am at war and battling with someone I can’t see but in my mind knowing that the enemy is so strong, that the whole world can stand still and allow the men and women in white coats to fight and not with guns and missiles but a very unusual way of fighting, at times feeling like I will hide from nothing. But hearing the casualties in this war across the globe, it’s something else.

The worst part is we don’t really know when the war is going to come to an end. This is World War. I am not fighting alone but worldwide there has been protocols designed in every Country and the nurses and doctors are on the front line, our new superheroes. Who ever thought of that.

Myself I do business and things. My business involves traveling across the boarder and now I can no longer go for orders as traveling is restricted and since many of my customers’ businesses are affected too, it’s becoming hard for them to pay me. Everyone is anxious as no one knows when everything will come back to normal.


Just like everyone else I was so excited for this year and hey it’s vision 2020, I had plans to grow and invest. But then Boom! COVID-19 decides to disturb all those plans, we pray its going to be defeated soon. Two of my friends have cancelled their weddings, ten people I know have lost their jobs just because of the virus. Each and every day new cases of infected people around the world are being reported. Schools, Shops, and even Churches are closed, as one way of defeating this enemy. Businesses are not making profits.

Parishioners wash hands as a preventative measure against COVID-19 at St. Don Bosco in Area 23, Lilongwe. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA)

We started seeing restrictions on travel and business, and many suspected cases were advised to be in quarantine. Everyday News since has been filled with gloom, devastation has been carried in the air to our homes and the internet has been jam-packed with information of this enemy.


Regular life feels like eternity ago. Though our country has been had the cases in less than a month and it’s not long ago when the restrictions were brought forward. Its crazy how fast everything we know has changed, and its crazy how quickly weve all adapted to the changes. This have really changed in a blink of an eye.

Consider the conversations you now have with family and friends these days. When was the last time you left home or pass by town without washing hands? Everything is different now, and it happened almost overnight. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, but its more than just that. Its a worldwide tragedy, one whose story is only beginning to unfold.
Its not just health. Its economics. Its politics. Its entertainment and lifestyle. Its society. Its everything.

Theres one thing we all share. Every one of us has lost something to Coronavirus. And its okay to lament over it. You may have changed your wedding plans, plans to start or finish School, plans for business, travel or attending your favorite concert. It’s okay to lament because it’s something you never expected.

I was worried because I didn’t get orders for my business and I was full of unpleasantness that I will be broke and won’t be able to keep up but when I read in the news and see The numbers of people that have died to this virus, I was like please, I really MUST be GRATEFUL.

We have lost People because of this pandemic, it’s okay to feel sad for the changed but let’s have hope that we are going to make it together and everything will be okay. Not so long from now. If you are afraid and worried about changed plans, I say it’s okay to feel sad but one thing that I know is we are going to go through this and I know our God is watching over us.

Let’s not forget to wash our hands frequently, observe social distance, use sanitizer and cover your mouth and nose with a mask.

What plans have you changed because of this pandemic?

AS WE CELEBRATED WORLD MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY

MHM-DAY-1In case you didn’t know that May 28 is celebrated as Menstrual Hygiene day globally. This day was set because May is the 5th month of the year, and women’s menstruation period lasts for an average of 5 days. The 28th was chosen because the average of menstrual cycle is 28 days. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) raises and combats taboos associated with Menstrual hygiene with the goal of enabling women and girls to achieve their full potential. Globally, more than half of women are currently of reproductive age and menstruation is a monthly reality. Yet all around the world, many women lack access to menstrual hygiene products or sanitation facilities, either due to limited availability or excessive cost.
Myths and stigmas surrounding menstruation cause some women and girls to miss school or work or go into isolation.

To my understanding I believe this is so because we don’t really talk about it openly. I remember when I first started my menstruation I was just 12 years old and in my final year at primary school.
I didn’t like the fact that I started at that age and I remember praying to God to asking him if I can I start 2 years later but it did not happen. Luckily enough, my mother told me what to expect and we also learnt about it at school. I had friends who never knew anything about menstruation, especially when it came to taking care of themselves. As a result, they ended up messing themselves and the boys in class would mock them. Unfortunately, this is still happening to our young girls in the present day.

Most of these girls are afraid to go to school when they are on their cycle because they don’t want to get embarrassed if their friends, especially boys, find out their situation. Others miss school because they don’t have the necessities they need during menstruation.

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It sounds like a joke but this is very true, in many rural areas in Malawi you will find girls not going to school when it is time because they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, which are sold at K550. I have heard people say that,why can’t they can’t just use the traditional way of using a cloth? when in reality it is very easy. I was shocked this other time, when I was talking to a girl in Mchinji; as part of a survey that sought to find out about absence of girls in schools. This girl told me she had one cloth which she uses but she cannot go to school because she needs to change during break time. To avoid that she needs to stay home to take care of herself and resume for school after the four days. When I asked why can’t she have two clothes to enable her to change at school; she said it was impossible told me because she cannot afford one. She said her mother doesn’t have a proper chitenje to wear and the cloth she has was shared by her cousin.
When I heard her story it got me thinking that she might not be the only girl in Malawi suffering on menstrual hygiene.

I know that somewhere, another girl is still suffering with the same problem. What am trying to say is; this is real and it is happening. However, I am glad that I have seen some organizations and different stakeholders on the forefront when it comes to menstrual hygiene management.

One of the stakeholders is Glam and Glory international. Glam and Glory has established a beauty pageant as platform to look for girls between the ages of 18-28. The girls contest and the winner is crowned as an ambassador for Menstrual hygiene in their district. They have been to Northern, and Central region so far, and they have been distributing reusable sanitary pads for free to 50 girls, who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. To all the girls who have made it to top 3, they are taught how to make reusable sanitary pads; so that they can teach girls in their communities how to make the reusable sanitary pads.

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Community leaders in Dedza giving the package of reusable sanitary pads and intimate hygiene soap to girls during crowning of miss Glam and Gloly Dedza.

Imagine if every girl in Malawi, especially in rural areas, knew how to make a reusable sanitary pad on their own. I think it might be a very good idea because we are going to have girls not missing school because of this reason.
Therefore I say big up to some organizations like; UNITED PURPOSE and UNICEF under WASH PROJECT. Special mention should also go to GOAL MALAWI, WORLD VISION just to mention a few, for taking part in distributing free sanitary pads and also for spreading the news on menstrual hygiene.

Students receiving donated sanitary pads from World Vision. Photos by Wezi Nungu World Vision.

I believe one day every young girl will get a message that this is not an embarrassing situation in her life. To me this is what really makes me feel like a woman, it has something very special that happens to only women. If we embrace it, we are going to reach higher heights and it won’t be a setback anymore.

I also believe that women and men of all ages must be aware of the importance of menstrual hygiene. There must be an open dialogue and education at home and in schools to foster engagement with this often unspoken issue. I believe we can achieve that together we no shame, no limit in order to bring awareness about good Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and the role it plays in empowering women and adolescent girls worldwide to become all they can be: IT’S REALLY TIME FORACTION.