It all started ten years ago in a small but picturesque city in the African nation of Malawi. Dignitas International was born amidst the rolling hills and lush vegetation of Zomba, the country’s former capital. In 2004, the AIDS pandemic was ravaging the continent and wiping out families and communities in Malawi.
Back then, without access to treatment and care, AIDS was a death sentence. Hospitals were doubling as hospices and morgues as patients were literally dying in the corridors. The situation was an affront to human dignity.
Alice Kadzanja remembers that time very well. A nurse living in Zomba, Alice was the first person hired by Dignitas International. Being HIV+ herself, she experienced first-hand the devastation caused by HIV as she lost her husband and several family members.
“At that time, people were dying everywhere and we had no hope for life,” remembers Alice.
At Dignitas, we knew we had to respond quickly. With the support of donors like you, we mustered up enough resources to set up Tisungane HIV/AIDS Clinic at Zomba Central Hospital. With the Malawian government receiving assistance from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to procure drugs, we staffed Tisungane Clinic to be able to provide free treatment for HIV and related conditions in one of the poorest corners of one of the poorest countries in the world.
In the “national” language of Malawi, Chichewa, Tisungane translates into “coming together to help one another.” In partnership with the government and the people of Malawi, we set out to save lives and alleviate the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS and related diseases. In our first month, we registered 33 patients on life-saving antiretroviral treatment. Today, the figure has almost climbed to 20,000.
From the very beginning, the team at Dignitas International wanted ripple effects. We wanted an impact, not just for the patient in front of us, but a lasting impact for the people of Malawi and beyond. Once Tisungane HIV/AIDS Clinic was up and running, we started training and mentoring health care workers in other hospitals and clinics, doing our best so that patients living in rural areas would not have to walk for hours to be seen. We developed a robust research capacity so that we could write up and publish our results – both the successes and the failures – for other health care providers around the world to benefit from our lessons learned. Over the last decade, we have helped close to 200,000 people get on life-saving HIV and TB treatment. Now they are healthier, able to work, raise their families, and contribute to their economy. Many of them now even work in our medical and research programs.
In 2014, people with HIV are now living longer and the virus is becoming more of a manageable chronic condition. Consequently, there are changing health care needs and Dignitas is evolving to respond to these complexities. We are still on the frontline treating patients and remain true to our founding vision of safeguarding the right to health and upholding the dignity of our patients.
As Alice boasts, “We have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Today, an AIDS-free generation is really possible.”
We are now getting people tested and treated earlier, we are assisting HIV+ adolescents to manage their condition and support their peers, and we’re working with partners to eliminate HIV transmission from mothers to their children. We believe Dignitas’s unique combination of frontline care, health system strengthening and research aimed at innovative improvements sets us apart from the rest.
What is also unique about Dignitas is the determined commitment of our donors. We can’t say this enough. Your giving has enabled 10 Years of Living Results!
We look forward to marking the first decade of successes by bringing you stories of the impact throughout 2014. We’ll celebrate our achievements and share our challenges, hoping to inspire you. As we committed with Tisungane in the beginning, we’re in it together!
Zikomo and Thank you.