Working for better health in Malawi

December 20, 2013

Since 2008, Pact has supported the Nkhotakota AIDS Support Organization (NASO) as it responds to HIV and AIDS. The current project reaches out to key populations in Malawi to provide them with information, condoms, and referrals to health clinics, where they can receive testing and treatment for HIV, as well as other health services that they require.

The organization was one of 26 supported by Pact in Malawi as part of a $19 million rapid response program called REACH that Pact implemented through 2011. Today, Pact continues to support NASO and other organizations through a USAID funded project in partnership with Population Services International called the Evidence Based Targeted Prevention Project.

NASO provides critical information to key populations in Dwangwa, where many Malawians come to work on the sugar plantations and associated industries. This hub of activity produces a fertile environment for the spread of HIV. The project promotes healthy behaviors to help reduce the spread of HIV and mitigate the devastating social effects of the disease. Key populations in Malawi include market vendors, fishing community members, plantation workers, men who have sex with men, and sex workers. NASO volunteers reach out to members of key populations with monthly messaging about making personal decisions that will lead to a healthy life.

Pact began working with NASO to strengthen its ability to provide the health services needed for people to live healthy and productive lives. The partnership with NASO has helped to build the organization’s skills in many different areas including finance, monitoring & evaluation, and programmatic reporting.

While Pact’s initial REACH project ended in 2011, we continue to develop NASO’s ability to provide HIV and AIDS services and to provide financial support under a prevention project that delivers behavior change messages to key populations that are most at risk of contracting HIV to empower them to change behaviour and live healthier lives. NASO also works to strengthen referral networks so that people are able to access the services they require at local health facilities.

Pact mentors and supports NASO as it implements the prevention project using 25 ‘interpersonal communication volunteers,’ who meet regularly with members of key populations in the communities where they live and work to discuss messages developed to promote healthy behavior decisions.

In the effort to promote healthy lifestyle choices, NASO distributes condoms to individuals that have attended discussions on the behaviors that can reduce transmission of HIV, among other health topics.

An important step in the project Pact implements in Malawi aims to strengthen health services referral networks so that organizations such as NASO, who are meeting directly with community members, can then refer people to health facilities that can provide the services they need.

Promoting healthy behavior is critical in reducing HIV risk. Many people in Malawi don’t know their HIV status, so HIV testing and counseling is essential to helping them make choices that will allow them remain HIV free if they test negative, or to access treatment services and live positively with HIV if they test positive. In the last year, more than 30,000 people accessed HIV testing and counseling through the project.