The number of people in Blantyre City has surged from 14 000 in 1950 to 995 000 in 2018.
The rapid population boom in Malawi’s foremost commercial city, founded in 1876, has been exacerbated by the exodus of people fleeing poverty in rural areas.
Urbanisation has heralded numerous challenges to the cosmopolitan city founded by missionaries of the Church of Scotland.
The city has become an epicentre of the HIV pandemic in the country.
The National Aids Commission (NAC) reports that 15 in every 100 people in the city are living with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
This is nearly twice the national HIV prevalence rate estimated at nine percent, meaning about 1 100 000 people in the country are living with the virus.
However, about a third of all new infections occur among adolescent girls and young women aged 14 to 24.
Gift Kawalazira, Blantyre district director of health and social services, attributed the “alarming situation” to poverty influenced by urbanisation.
The medical doctor said Blantyre’s status as a commercial city surrounded by districts with mixed cultural values further contributes to the surging HIV infections.
He says: “There is a need for action. This is a commercial hub. There are a lot of commercial activities with people moving in and out of the city, leading to increased sex activities.
“The city is also surrounded by districts such as Thyolo, Mulanje and Chiradzulu that have mixed cultural values that promote sex.”
Now Blantyre District Health Office has launched an HIV prevention strategy branded Blantyre Konda Moyo in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Population Services International (PSI).
The strategy funded by the Melinda Gates Foundation will guide the city’s efforts to increase awareness and promote preventive measures to reduce new infections.
Among other things, the DHO pledges to popularise an array of HIV prevention measures, including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP), condom use and voluntary male medical circumcision.
PreP, an antiretroviral drug taken to prevent getting HIV by 99 percent, is lauded as a handy addition for women and girls who have limited preventive innovations in their toolbox.
Similarly, PEP, the medicines taken to reduce the risk of infection after possible exposure to HIV, also gives a woman the power to stay safe in a cultural setting where she has no say over male-dominated options such as condom use.
Science approved by the World Health Organisation shows that PEP reduces infections by at least 80 percent if taken within 72 hours after exposure for 28 days.
“As the city’s health department, we will put much emphasis on prevention because we believe that prevention is better than cure. Promotion of these methods will give the residents more choices when it comes to decisions to protect themselves from HIV and Aids.” said Kawalazira.
Mavuto Thomas, acting deputy director for preventive health services in the Ministry of Health, describes the Blantyre Konda Moyo strategy as a milestone, but called for more efforts to reduce the HIV infections.
He encourages both residents and visitors to utilise the services to protect themselves.
“The strategy will help to increase access through awareness and make sure that the services are available,” Thomas said.
PSI deputy country representative Chiwawa Nkhoma says the international non-governmental organisation will work with the district health office and other partners in implementing the communication campaigns to create demand and improve service delivery.
Blantyre City deputy mayor Funny Baraba Kanonjerera says as a councillor, he feels obliged to join the campaign to save lives.
“I feel duty-bound to take the messages to all 23 ward councillors in the city so they work with their health committees to fight the pandemic so that no one is left out in terms of awareness,” he said