Lilongwe, Malawi Three years of activity at the DREAM centre of Mthengo wa Ntenga
Three years ago, on 24 August 2005, at Mthengo wa Ntenga (Lilongwe), the first molecular biology laboratory and the first treatment centre of the DREAM programme were opened in Malawi.
Thus it was the Mthengo centre that paved the way for the development of DREAM in Malawi, for its rapid and extremely significant expansion that has seen the emergence of more than 10 centres across the country.
The centre of Mthengo was the first to face up to the challenge of taking excellence in treatment and diagnostics to rural areas of Malawi that are often remote and isolated.
The past three years have seen a noteworthy increase in the number of people receiving care and support; there are now more than 1200 (among them 900 patients on treatment of antiretroviral drugs).
The most significant and amazing result pertains to vertical prevention, the main objective of this centre, which works in collaboration with the maternity department of the missionary hospital of the Carmelite Sisters.
All the pregnant women going to the maternity department have free access to the programme. To date, around 250 children have been born to HIV-positive mothers on the programme, and 98% of the babies tested negative in the definitive test conducted at the age of 18 months.
This is an extraordinary result, even compared to standards in western countries.
It is a dream coming through, the dream of saving an entire generation from the grip of AIDS, and of treating the whole family, so that this generation of children will be cared for.
In fact, the mothers and fathers of the children also benefit from antiretroviral treatment and since they are in good health thanks to the medication, they are able to look after their children.
The DREAM centre of Mthengo, with its population of children who are born healthy and of families that are being cared for and treated, has become a reference point for all the people in the region.
After all, the good news spread by DREAM centres cannot be measured only in terms of statistical data. The warm welcome received by the patients, the concern for adequate and proper nutrition, health education courses: all these elements contribute to spreading the good reputation of the Mthengo centre throughout the region.
Today, the local personnel of the centre, who are constantly updating their knowledge and skills thanks to DREAM training courses, are capable of offering opportunities of practical internship to a growing number of other socio-health workers, who come from health centres across the country as well as from other African countries.
In fact, throughout the past year, the Mthengo team has seen to the launching of activities in another two centres, also situated in rural areas: Dzoole in Dowa district and Mtendere in Dedza district. Both centres are now fully operational and they make use of the diagnostic services of the molecular biology laboratory of Mthengo.
Also very meaningful are the birth of the “I DREAM” movement and the growth it has seen in recent years.
The activists are responsible for home-based care and health education at the centre and in the villages, and they reach many people: the number is difficult to quantify but it is definitely very high. They hold lessons on weaning and conduct nutritional counselling to counter malnutrition, which alas is still very widespread in Malawi.
Thanks to their efforts, the percentage of malnourished children among those supported at Mthengo is much less than the national average.
Another step in recent months has been the start of awareness meetings in area secondary schools to prevent the spread of the HIV virus and to fight against stigma.
In a word, the three years of work by DREAM has contributed to the social development of the entire region around Lilongwe and to the improvement of the health conditions of many people. For this anniversary, there will be no special ceremonies.
The most beautiful festivities are always the spontaneous celebrations that erupt – almost every week now – every time a baby born on the programme does the definitive test at 18 months, and turns out to be negative, thus joining the large family of babies who have been saved by DREAM .