McDonald Chisale can usually be found behind the wheel of a Toyota land cruiser manoeuvring the dirt roads of rural Malawi.
He used to work for a car rental company often contracted by Dignitas but ended up joining the organization as a driver/logistician in 2008.
In 2010, he was posted to Mulanje District as Dignitas began its expansion of HIV-related services across Malawi’s southeast region. The district is about a 2-hour drive South of Zomba, the home of Dignitas’s Tisungane Clinic, and boasts of having Malawi’s highest mountain peak-Mount Mulanje.
At that time, people living with HIV in Mulanje could only collect their medicines at the district hospital located kilometres away for many. “It was difficult and expensive and resulted in increased cases of people stopping treatment,” he remembers.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health and the United States Agency for International Development, Dignitas worked to decentralize both HIV services and drugs from the district hospital to community health centres, helping patients save on transport costs, which is often cited as a barrier to care in resource-limited countries.
According to McDonald, joining Dignitas opened a new chapter in his life and his understanding of HIV/AIDS. “This job convinced me to get tested for HIV and to know my status,” notes McDonald.
In the course of a given day, McDonald can be seen transporting health workers to their mentorship sessions, picking up drugs to alleviate stock ruptures, delivering specimen samples to the lab or delivering new equipment to a rural health centre. Because the vehicles he drives are marked with a Dignitas logo he is often approached by people with questions about HIV.
“I wouldn’t know how to respond to these questions if I didn’t work for Dignitas,” says McDonald. He believes that working as a driver makes him an ambassador for the organization.
Over the years, McDonald has seen how Dignitas has helped to strengthen Malawi’s health system. He illustrates the critical role that Dignitas plays: “Dignitas provides ongoing training to new and existing staff so they can provide quality medical care.”
McDonald enjoys driving the Toyota Land cruiser because of its higher ground clearance, which facilitates smooth movement on rugged rural roads. “We need these kinds of vehicles because Dignitas goes into the hard to reach areas,” he says.
The son of a retired soldier, McDonald loves his job as a driver/logistician because he feels part of a team fighting HIV/AIDS in Malawi.
“People have often told me that they are grateful that Dignitas came to Mulanje and that we’ve saved a lot of lives. However, our work in this district far from over; many more still need to be reached,” says McDonald.