For three years since 2009, Didya White, 45, from Group Village Head Kalanga in Traditional Authority Chimwala, Mangochi had been complaining of fever, headache, tiredness and enlarged lymph glands in the neck.
For a person who had never been to school and lived her entire life in rural areas, the only place she had known to provide cure for ailments was at a traditional healer who lived a few metres away from her home.
However, having visited the traditional doctor for the past three years during which she was prescribed various concoctions, her health concerns refused to go.
“I thought I was bewitched. I did not understand why my illness would not go away,” she said.
What followed later was weight loss, frequent fevers and sweating and fatigue.
By the end of 2012, Didya’s legs got paralysed and in an effort to save her life, her relatives moved her from one traditional healer’s door to another, but still nothing changed.
A lot of money had been spent and time wasted while searching for treatment at traditional healers.
“Death had been long coming. I was in deep pain, my only wish was to die,” she said.
It was at the beginning of 2013 that some men and women belonging to a support group called Kalanga Star Circle in her village heard about Didya’s illness.
They visited her and encouraged her to go to hospital, which she refused at first.
“All my upbringing, I have never been inside a hospital. I was brought up in a family that valued traditional medicine,” she said.
But upon insistence and sharing of some teachings of HIV by members of Kalanga Star Circle, Didya and her relatives were convinced that it was time to seek medical help at the hospital.
“That was when I was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and put on treatment. Then I was also found HIV positive and put on antiretroviral therapy (ART),” she said.
Gradually, she started getting healthy again.
“I had spent a lot of money on traditional healers. I could have died when treatment was available at the hospital,” she said.
Didya, who has since joined Kalanga Star Circle, thanks Oxfam through Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowlha) for introducing Star Circle project in her village through which she had learnt the importance of going to the hospital for medical help and let alone testing for HIV.
She says she has learnt how to live positively.
“I had heard about Aids and that once you have it your days become numbered. So when I was diagnosed HIV positive, I feared death. But belonging to the Star Circle has helped me to have hope for the future,” she said.
T/A Chimwala says if the Star Circle had been introduced to his village earlier, many deaths would have been avoided.
“We used to have frequent deaths, before this project was introduced in my area. But now the situation has changed. Many people have realised the importance of having their blood tested. When people know their status, they stay healthy and contribute to development,” said T/A Chimwala.
Cowlha’s livelihoods officer Sellah Nthengwe says through star circles, Cowlha has brought together both men and women to discuss issues related to why women remain more vulnerable to HIV than men.
Discussing such issues, said Nthengwe, has led communities to realise the need to share responsibilities in the home and for constant dialogue and communication between married couples.
Didya says if the project had not been introduced in her area, she would not have been alive today.