A volunteer mentor refers a fisherman for HIV testing on the shore. (Photo: Maggie Dougherty/Pact)

After an HIV test saves his life, a fisherman in Malawi pays it forward


Gracium Kanyenda never thought of himself as someone who should get tested for HIV. A 46-year-old fisherman who spends his days working the waters of lakes Malawi and Malombe, he’s never been the type to take part in risky activities like sex with multiple partners. He couldn’t say the same for a fisher friend who’d recently tested negative.

If he is negative, I must be too, Kanyenda remembers thinking.

Still, when volunteer HIV mentors with Pact’s FISH project came to his area to raise awareness and offer testing, Kanyenda agreed to participate.

“Fellow fishermen identified me as a potential individual that needed HIV testing, considering that I had never tested before,” he recalls.

Kanyenda was stunned to learn that he was HIV-positive.

His 2018 diagnosis changed his life, but not in the way he was expecting.

After starting on antiretroviral therapy, he decided he wanted to share his HIV status publicly. He never thought he’d test positive, yet he did. There are probably many others who don’t think they need to be tested, he figured. Maybe his story could save lives, especially among local fishermen, who tend to trust their own.

“I realized that there might be others in my fishing community with similar perceptions toward HIV as the ones I had.”
Gracium Kanyenda, fourth from left,and Paison Kaudyeudye, right,with local volunteermentors and health workers.

“The support I got from the mentors and the services I received at the clinic where I was referred charged me to serve others,” Kanyenda says. “I realized that there might be others in my fishing community with similar perceptions toward HIV as the ones I had.”

Kanyenda began encouraging others to get tested. He also worked to build good relationships with local traditional leaders, who started inviting him to community meetings to give talks on HIV.  

Within a short time, 10 men who Kanyenda had reached agreed to get tested. Two who tested positive then decided to publicly share their status to help reduce stigma and encourage even more testing, starting a chain reaction of sorts. One of the men, Paison Kaudyeudye, now works regularly with Kanyenda, educating fishermen at community gatherings as well as by going door to door.

Kanyenda says he sees the difference he is making in his community every day, and it inspires him to keep going.

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