Edward turns slowly in the direction of his home, on the outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. His heart is full of despair. The streets are dusty and lined with low-roofed houses made of mud and brick, the usual poverty. But they are also buzzing with people and life, men and women who go about their daily business, walking, talking, laughing. Edward, however, doesn’t participate in the life that surrounds him. He is ill. He has AIDS.
By now written out of the script that is life, he is a man without hope. He is unemployed. He who in his youth had the fortune of being able to study and completed secondary school. He who obtained a good job as a mechanic. In Africa it is normal to lose your job to AIDS. And consequently your friends ad social status too. Edward, in fact, doesn’t have any friends, they all disappeared on the discovery of his condition. Now they can’t even look at him, they’re scared. At best, some try a little compassion. This is why Edward is going home, it’s a good place to die. Where else can he go? There is nothing more that can be done. How can he find a job to earn money to survive in his condition? The virus has damaged his body terribly, making him weak and almost blind at just 38 years of age. It won’t be long before he can’t see and then he won’t even be able to walk by himself.
Edward discovered he had AIDS on the 25th April. He was often ill and was asked to do a blood test…the result was positive. Edward had been infected by the virus HIV and his immune system was already seriously compromised. A huge shock to the system, but Edward decided to fight, he hadn’t given up yet. On learning the result he started a treatment programme offered by the government. But instead of improving, his condition worsened…. day by day. So what else was he supposed to do except go home and wait for death to end his suffering?
But Edward’s story is not destined to end in death…at least not yet. Thanks to one of those miracles that can happen also in Africa, his destiny is one of hope, of cure, of life.
As Edward lies on his back on a mat on the floor, without expecting anything from anybody, suddenly something happens. Joseph, a distant relative, goes to visit him. Joseph had heard about his condition and the previous year had participated in the DREAM programme training course for laboratory technicians in Maputo, Mozambique.
And so Joseph, after having attended the training course, started working in the molecular biology laboratory in the hospital of Mthengo wa Ntenga on the outskirts of Lilongwe. That laboratory is the first opened by DREAM in Malawi and is the only one in the country where patients don’t pay for the sophisticated tests needed to monitor and treat AIDS. Joseph came into contact with many people, many sick people and saw that, thanks to antiretroviral therapy, AIDS is not a death sentence but a disease which can be treated and kept under control.
Joseph who was taken aback by the sight of Edward in such a terrible state ( he hardly recognised him) advised him to go to the DREAM centre in Mthengo wa Ntenga. There he would be able to be treated in the same way as patients are treated in Europe or the United States, free of charge. And as he is too sick to work he would also be given food to aid his recovery.
Edward is convinced by Joseph’s heartfelt advice and by the possibility of being treated and getting back his dignity. He decides to make the effort to go to the DREAM centre. But it isn’t easy. There is a long stretch of road to walk and then a minibus into town. It’s about 1600 kwacha for a return ticket which is more than a dollar. Moreover, there isn’t any way that Edward could make the journey by himself, he is practically paralysed. At least one or two volunteers would be needed to take on the responsibility of accompanying him. But the prospect of finding hope again is worth all this and more. Edward doesn’t want to die anymore now he has cultivated a dream of recovery, a dream of life.
Edward arrives at our centre on the 31st of October 2005, he is helped to take a seat in the waiting room and then he is seen by a doctor who takes a blood sample in order to restart therapy and prescribe treatment for the numerous opportunistic infections that afflict the patient’s body.
Edward, in fact, has a terrible cough, caused by tuberculosis, lesions on his head and body, a wound in his right armpit which is infected and needs to be cut into in order to drain the puss. He also has pain in his muscles that prevents him from being able to walk alone. Despite being over one metre and seventy centimetres in height, he has lost so much weight over the last few months that he weighs less than 50 kilos. For this reason he receives food over the days to come, until his next check up.
At the beginning Edward came to the centre every two weeks, his condition was such that required strict medical control. After a couple of months, however, he started to get better. In the area where he lives people could hardly believe it, he started to walk and see again. In February Edward came for his check up alone, he no longer needed someone to accompany him.
Today Edward is another person. In the middle of March he came to the centre proud of having convinced his wife to do the test and begin the assistance programme that is DREAM. He remembers with us his story and thanks us for the therapy which has allowed him live again. Today he sees his future as hopeful and less lonely, he has found someone to fight the battle for his health with. We talk for a long time. His wife tells us how until a few months ago she didn’t think her husband could possibly get out of his desperate situation. On the contrary, she was petrified also for herself. After the disease had set in, Edward had tried on many occasion to convince his wife to take the test but she hadn’t wanted to. She was scared of getting the confirmation that the terrible disease that was plaguing her husband would one day plague her too.
But when she saw that her husband was getting stronger again day after day, her fear started to subside, leaving room for the conviction that it is important to know and to face the test result, especially if there is the certainty of treatment and assistance at the DREAM centre today and in the future.
Edward’s wife did the blood test and then went home with her husband. We see them walking away from the hospital, around the market streets just outside the centre. They are still ill but there is hope in their step as they walk. They walk together, with an air of calm, towards a future that is longer and brighter than they imagined only a few months before.