Photo: Samuel Hauenstein Swan www.sambronx-photo.com
Malawi’s HIV epidemic remains generalised and feminised. Although the country has recorded a significant reduction in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths; adolescent girls, young women and other key populations, particularly in urban areas, continue to bear the highest burden of the epidemic.
The HIV pandemic is worthing the poverty experienced by elderly. Orphans witnessing the death of one or both of their parents may be exhausted emotionally have no choice than turn to their grandmother and fathers for protection and upkeep. Not only does this increase the cost of running the households also the elderly grandparents must compensate for the loss labour on the frames for to the foreseeable future. The old have watched and grieved with dignity and dismay as one after another of their children died, leaving them without a traditional family support. ADIS left some families with only the old and the very young.
Malawi is a nation living in grief. Malawi’s communities are upholding human dignity and respect in circumstances that would daunt the most stout-hearted. Or as this woman told me the pandemic make everyone realises that strength lays in mutual community support and solidarity.
In 2016, Malawi had 36 000 (31 000 – 45 000) new HIV infections and 24 000 (20 000 – 31 000) AIDS-related deaths. There were 1 000 000 (970 000 – 1 100 000) people living with HIV in 2016, among whom 66% (62% – 70%) were accessing antiretroviral therapy. (UNAIDS 2017)
If it’s true that we humans learn from our mistakes in life then I should have been a genius at the age of 14. That’s according to my wee mum, who it must be said has had more than her fair share of worries since bringing me into the world. It was impossible for me to understand this until I had kids of my own.
I can still remember vividly the births of both of my sons and the overwhelming emotions that pulsed through me. The desire to keep them safe, to protect them, to teach them and give them better experiences and opportunities in life than I had. All of these emotions grow as your child grows, they develop as they do and become stronger.
It’s with this in mind that I want to write about the story behind a photograph I took in Malawi in March 2006.
I was spending a few weeks there with the charity Concern to make a photo story about dreadful food shortages which were blighting the country. Myself and a writer Alan Martin lived in a village called Mgwindhi, in central Nkhotakota, where we slept on the floor of the chiefs hut. It was an incredible experience where we were shown the most amazing hospitality and kindness by everyone we met. As part of our work we visited a clinic where we met a young woman called Enifa Banda. Enifa was 30 years old and had walked for days to attend the clinic with her 6 month old twin babies. The babies were called Mercy and Memory.
Even as I type this now I can’t make sense of the unbearable pain Enifa must have endured. Herself malnourished Enifa was producing hardly any breast milk for one child let alone two hungry babies. She had been forced to make an unthinkable decision. Enifa had to pick which child she should feed in attempt to keep one of her children alive. She named the child she fed Mercy, and the second child who was given no milk whilst she tried to find help was called Memory.
When Enifa made it to the clinic it was already too late for poor little Memory. In the photograph below Enifa cradles Mercy as Memory struggles for breath on the bed at her mothers side.
We heard later that Memory lived for a few hours after we left the clinic and then passed away at her mothers side.