The Community of Sant’Egidio on Friday hosted the 7th International Conference of the DREAM programme. Launched in 2002, the programme is based on a holistic approach to treating HIV/AIDS in ten sub-Saharan African countries.
One of the countries where DREAM has been particularly successful is Malawi. Known as Project Malawi, the government has integrated DREAM into its national HIV/AIDS response and collaborates with an array of international NGOs and faith-based groups.
“The Malawi approach is very unique because it is integrated into the ongoing national HIV/AIDS response, but it has also created a public-private partnership,” says Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary for HIV/AIDS and Nutrition at the Office of the President and Cabinet of the Republic of Malawi.
The country now has ten DREAM centres and four laboratories for testing.
Project Malawi still faces challenges, like access to DREAM centres in rural areas and lack of new technologies. But Shawa says that stigma is not one of the challenges.
“I have told my staff, ‘Yes we are all HIV-positive,’ because in your own family you have lost people, whom we have buried due to AIDS, and you have relatives who are HIV-positive. It means you are living with HIV. So we are all at risk and we are all positive. That’s how we tend to overcome HIV stigma.”
Shawa went on to say that the Catholic Church has been a strong partner in the country’s AIDS response.
“They were the first to start the ART treatment in the country before the government had organized itself to start the treatment,” she told Vatican Radio. “A lot of work they have done has been used as learning ground for the ongoing programmes that are taking place now.”
Listen to Mary Shawa’s full interview with Kelsea Brennan-Wessels: