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Umunthu Foundation - Malawi

Introducing Umunthu Foundation

AVERT has been working with Umunthu Foundation (meaning ‘humanity to others’ in Chichewa) in Malawi since 2010. Umunthu is a community-based organisation working in the townships of Bangwe and Limbe, in Malawi’s second city, Blantyre.

Out of school youth meet at the post-test clubWe work closely with Umunthu to develop and expand their work and ensure that the project is having maximum impact on communities. Since the project began, thousands of people have been reached by Umunthu’s services both directly and indirectly.

Umunthu’s aim is to promote democracy, human rights and good governance; to mitigate the causes and impact of HIV and AIDS; to promote food security among rural households; and to economically empower vulnerable groups and young people.

What is the context of the project?

HIV and AIDS pose an urgent public health issue in this region of Malawi. Young people are particularly at risk of HIV infection and women are vulnerable due to gender inequalities, high levels of gender-based violence and their ability to negotiate condom use.

Coverage of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services is limited, meaning people often access antiretroviral treatment (ART) late or not at all, and do not receive the necessary psychosocial support. Community services for people living with HIV (PLHIV) are also lacking. Levels of poverty and education exacerbate the epidemic as a lack of sustainable livelihoods and poor HIV and AIDS knowledge can result in risky behaviour.

Umunthu aims to fill these gaps by providing services that enable people to know their HIV status and receive the necessary referrals and support; improve the quality of life of PLHIV and the wider community; and improve knowledge of HIV and AIDS and gender issues.

You can also visit our dedicated webpage for more information about the response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi.

What are the project activities?

David Odali, Umunthu's Director, conducting an HIV testUmunthu provides comprehensive VCT services across three centres in Bangwe and Limbe, including the Umunthu office. These services are fully integrated into the community. Between February 2010 and October 2013 nearly 30,000 people have been tested for HIV by Umunthu's VCT centres. They refer people who test HIV positive for CD4 count testing to determine if they need to start treatment, and pregnant women are referred to prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services. VCT services also provide psychosocial support, and basic treatment for opportunistic infections. Umunthu are now the sole providers of VCT in this area as other services have closed due to lack of funding.

Through innovative community-based HIV prevention and awareness-raising activities, such as radio debates, drama and song, Umunthu promotes behaviour change and works to break down stigma and myths around the virus. At Umunthu’s offices support groups for PLHIV and home-based carers meet regularly to share experiences and knowledge, and receive training. The organisation has also initiated community dialogue with both men and women to reduce incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) and makes the links between violence and HIV clearer. Umunthu also provides psychosocial support and referrals to legal services for victims of GBV.

The project has a specific focus on young people in the community and runs various anti-AIDS youth groups both in and out of schools to provide young people with a platform to talk about HIV and sexual health. Umunthu’s offices also house an open-access information library on HIV and AIDS, nutrition, ART and adherence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and rights of PLHIV, for young people, PLHIV and the wider community.

In 2013, a new activity has started up at Umunthu Foundation to improve the livelihoods of people living with HIV in the local community. Umunthu has set up a revolving loan fund, which provides soft loans at zero percent interest. The loans will enable people to set up small income generation activities, such as selling fruit and vegetables, to strengthen their income and boost self-esteem. It will also help people living with HIV to have greater access to food security, improving their general health, and to provide greater support to their families.

What is Umunthu's vision and impact?

Umunthu’s vision is of an HIV and AIDS and poverty free society where every person is valued and treated equally before the law. The project is based on the philosophy that community-led initiatives are an effective way of addressing the social challenges of HIV, AIDS and GBV in a sustainble way at community level. Umunthu are an integral part of the community they serve and the organisation is run by local staff and volunteers who consult regularly with communities to ensure they are responding to their needs.

The project has had a far-reaching impact on local communities through increased access to VCT services, enabling more people to access life-saving treatment and reducing the risk of the virus being transmitted from mother to child. Umunthu have successfully increased awareness of the risks of HIV transmission and influenced behaviour change among local communities, particularly among young people. The project has also strengthened community support structures and systems for PLHIV, leading to improved treatment adherence, nutrition levels and greater psychosocial support.

Hear from Umunthu:

David Odali, Director of Umunthu Foundation, contributed an article for AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 guest writer feature 'Reflections on the Epidemic'. Follow this link to read David's article entitled 'Resources for a rights based approach to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic'. 

Two young people from Umunthu's Post-Test Club are active members of AVERT's Get Plugged In youth forum. For World Development Information Day 2013, we asked them how technology improves access to HIV/AIDS information and awareness of HIV/AIDS development challenges - you can read their interviews here

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2013, Joyce* from the Umunthu Foundation was interviewed by AVERT. You can read what it means to be a part of the Umunthu Foundation's 'Home-based Carers’ support group in her International Women's Day message.

short article was also written for the 'Reflections on the Epidemic' series by Mercy Banda, a young person involved in the Umunthu project, entitled 'Narrow escape'.

Fundraising

None of this work would be possible without your support. If you would like to support us please donate to AVERT or visit our fundraising for AVERT page for ways to fundraise for the charity. Thank you!

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