Faced with reluctant religious leaders, who refuse to burge and accept that prayers never cure one from an HIV infection, and highly-religious HIV and AIDS infected persons, the government of Malawi has come up with yet another first- a model that combines prayer, ARV treatment and nutrition.
In the new model, the strange factor is the prayer component. Prayer doesn't fit anywhere in scientific models, yet Principal Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Mary Shawa, says that is where efforts aimed at coming over the HIV and AIDS issue have been humpered.
People have been known to abandon ARVs for prayer, and then, later, coming back to ARVs after hitting blank walls, a development Shawa said was bringing up the costs of providing ARVs for individuals whose CD count hits the lower mark of 250 by Malawian standards.
Malawi uses US$7 per person each month to provide ARVs to those who have never defaulted on treatment. However, Shawa says the costs go up to US$70 monthly for individuals who either abandon the life-prolonging drugs for prayer or quit for other reasons.
"This is costly on government as we spend more resources on one individual, yet the same amount of money spent on them could be used to benefit 10 more individuals under normal circumstances. We have thus struck out a compromise with religious leaders in Malawi, to the effect that those who believe in prayer will continue to take ARVs. There will be nothing like abandoning ARVs for prayer under the new model; one we think is the first in the world," said Shawa.
The Prayer-Treatment and Nutrition model will help reduce cases of resistance to the life-prolonging drugs, apart from cooling the often tense relationship between faith leaders and HIV and AIDS policy-makers, largely bordering on whether prayer may be the ultimate cure to HIV and AIDS, or the world should wait for another remedy.
Malawi Health Equity Network national coordinator, Martha Kwataine said all possibilities should be explored, and compromises made, if Malawi is to reduce the number of HIV infections. The new model will, thus, give religious leaders and policy-makers an opportunity to learn to strike out compromises, she said.
Media AIDS and Health Watch (Mawa) project officer, Owings Chawanda, hailed the new government model, adding it showed the Bingu wa Mutharika administration really cared about the country's HIV and AIDS situation, and wanted to play an active role to bring about initiatives that work.
"Dr. Mutharika has really shown quality leadership since the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS falls under his office. With him at the helm, Malawi will be a better place, HIV and AIDS-wise, in six years time. This we say because we know the president realises that HIV and AIDS continue to undo social-economic gains achieved over so many years of hard work,"said Chawanda.