This December, working in partnership with Dignitas International, the AGHCA completed the final phase of screenings for the MASA Film Project. Strategic planning interventions were conducted in 13 different communities in Zomba district. Each screening was accompanied by moonlight HIV testing and counselling, provide a discrete way for members of rural communities to learn their status.
The MASA film depicts true-life stories of people living with HIV. During a screening, security guard Paul Mphukere made a decision that would change his life: ‘I knew there was something wrong with me; I just didn’t know what to do. After the screening, I got tested but I had no idea how to break it to my wife. 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 for fear of our marriage ending.’
Before the screening, Paul belonged to a large group of men in Malawi who have never been tested, holding back for a range of reasons, one of which is fear of discrimination. The consequences of stigma and discrimination are wide-ranging; some are shunned by family, peers and the wider community, others face poor treatment in healthcare and other sectors. These all limit access to HIV testing, treatment and other HIV services. With moonlight testing, over 1300 people tested for HIV during the project cycle, nearly 40% for the very first time.
A comprehensive evaluation concluded that: 'The MASA Film project has contributed to more people going for HIV testing, more people know where to receive medication and there have been significantly less cases of discrimination in the communities. Healthcare workers reported an increased demand for condoms and increased couples testing. HIV positive people who were receiving treatment at distant healthcare centers, reportedly transferred to their closest health facility. It was also reported that more HIV positive people are disclosing their status.'
The project has demonstrated that barriers to prevention, testing, treatment and care can be broken by creating a space for discussion of taboo topics with community members, leadership and health workers to engage with and address contextual issues of HIV and AIDS. This creates a more conducive environment for community members to take control of their health.
The film has reached over 10,000 individuals over the project period. In future, we hope to scale up the project further, bringing interventions to additional villages across Malawi.