The Chipini Health Centre was chosen as the first antiretroviral treatment (ART) decentralization site in Zomba District in early 2006, and ART delivery began in January of that year. Before ART was available in Chipini, patients had to cross Malawi’s second-tallest mountain to access treatment in Zomba town. Communities in Chipini came together to support and provide care for families, friends, and neighbours impacted by HIV/AIDS.
The Tikondane Positive Living Support Organization was founded for this very purpose. In 2006, most community members were too sick to leave their homes. Somber meetings of the organization were held under a tree, where people would share stories of struggle, stigma, and disease, sat next to a pile of bricks that members hoped would one day build a community centre.
In 2010, Dignitas International returned to Chipini at the invitation of members of Tikondane. Dozens of community members greeted their special guests in song, and escorted their visitors into a large brick building that functioned as a meeting space, a day care centre, and a base for income-generating activities taken on by the community, which had been able to purchase a sewing machine. Only three members of the organization were too sick to attend the meeting that day, and one of the members proudly addressed those gathered to discuss how to live positively – and openly – with HIV. Men shook hands and grinned. Women and children – smiling, healthy, and strong – engaged in song.
This transformation of the community in Chipini was made possible with access to antiretroviral treatment, and exemplifies the change that is possible in villages across Zomba District and in those districts to which Dignitas is only beginning to expand life-saving services.