My name is Paul Mphukele and I am HIV positive. My wife and I have 4 children: 3 are HIV negative and the 4th is a month old and is receiving medication before we arrange to get him tested. I am happy to tell my story because the MASA film saved my life.
This is the story of Paul, a community security officer in Chinangwa Village, under Group Village Headman Taulo, in Zomba. GVH Taulo’s area is one of the sites in which the MASA Film Project was screened in 2016.
In 40 years, Paul had never been tested for HIV, explaining: ‘I knew there was something wrong with me, but I was not keen to get tested because I was afraid.’ His experience at a MASA screening, watching a film depicting the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS, gave Paul the courage he needed to make a life changing decision.
'In the film, I watched a scene where a young man accused his grandparents of bewitching him because he did not want to face the truth. I realized then that I had been hiding behind different excuses to run away from finding out my status. A day after the screening, I decided to get tested.’
With the knowledge of his HIV results, Paul’s burst of courage allowed him to break down one barrier, only to be faced with another; he did not feel he was brave enough to break the news to his wife.
Paul’s wife had been tested years before, when she was pregnant with her second child. She was secretly taking anti retro viral (ARV) drugs. ‘When my wife got pregnant, she did not tell me she was HIV positive and had started on the antenatal treatment that would protect our unborn child. She had known all along, but had been afraid to tell me from fear of me accusing her of being unfaithful.’
Paul felt his wife’s decision to keep her treatment a secret was understandable considering the risk of stigma and discrimination in the community. People living with HIV and AIDS experience stigma and discrimination on an ongoing basis. This impact goes beyond individuals infected with HIV and reaches more broadly into society, both disrupting the functioning of communities and complicating testing and treatment.
The consequences of stigma and discrimination on testing and treatment are extensive in communities. In the case of individuals like Paul and his wife, fear of rejection, discrimination, and even deadly violence can discourage people from taking an HIV test, sharing the results or complying with treatment.
The ultimate goal of the MASA Film Project is to break barriers to prevention, testing, treatment and care by creating a space for discussion among community leaders, members.
Paul is one of many individuals who have told us that they decided to take control of their health after watching the MASA film. When asked what could be done to improve the screenings, Paul declared enthusiastically: ‘I am sure there are more people out there who have been to a MASA screening and are willing to tell their story. I would like to encourage you to use these stories to reach out to people on how important it is to get tested, as I will use mine to reach out to people in my community.’