In Malawi DREAM is increasingly taking root in rural areas, as is fitting and natural in a country where 80% of the population lives far from the cities. This 80% consists of people who badly need and want therapy, in settings which alas offer very rare opportunities to access treatment and services.
Those who work in Malawian DREAM centres have often witnessed, over the years, the need and tenacity of patients coming from the bush, from rural areas; patients who are ready to cover long distances on foot, at times walking for days, in order to be welcomed in the day hospitals which the programme has opened in the country.
In Balaka, in central-south Malawi, a traditionally rural area which now bears the dignity of a township, the local DREAM centre has around one thousand patients, twice the number registered only six months ago. The majority hail from places that are very far away, which take up to two hours by car to reach (a day of travelling on foot for most people, who don’t have the means to go by public transport). This is the reason why DREAM decided to go out to meet them, setting up centres in the areas closest to the places where they live. This is the experience of the distant centre of Dzoole, which is about to be replicated in Kapire and Namandanje too.
In Kapire (Mangochi district), where there is already a mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Bergamo, and a health centre run by the same, around 100 patients are currently receiving treatment. Reaching Balaka mission takes more than one hour by car, along a dirt road. During the rainy season, the road is often blocked or impassable, which is why an agreement with the mission was considered, to set up a centre on site for the treatment of AIDS.
DREAM workers were already going once a month to visit those who could not reach Balaka, but the demand was growing, as was the need for more frequent contact with patients. DREAM personnel are now going to Kapire every week to take blood samples, to carry out examinations and to distribute drugs. Activities are still being carried out in temporary premises, in anticipation of the construction of a new structure, however the service is already computerized and working perfectly.
For Kapire, it will also be an opportunity to fight the stigma and shame which still mark patients affected by AIDS. In villages, those who are sick tend to hide away. The setting up of a centre here means being able to talk more openly about the disease, and to witness to the availability and effectiveness of treatment. What’s more, the possibility of building a small house near the new centre is being considered. This would cater for infected people coming from far off areas, so they may stay there for a few days until the necessary diagnostic tests are concluded.
In Namandanje (Machinga district), an hour and a half by car from Balaka, there is another group of around 150 patients. In this village, Fr Eugenio, a Montfortian priest, runs a great health centre, among other things. Here too, DREAM staff used to go once a month to visit patients who could not make it to go to Balaka, but over recent weeks, DREAM has gradually expanded its services, taking samples and c