Malawi Chosen to launch Global HIV/AIDS Memorial

Date: January 1, 1970
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The Global Health Council has chosen Malawi as the site of the Opening Ceremony to officially commemorate the launch of the worldwide 25th Anniversary Candlelight Memorial on 18 May 2008. The Council will be collaborating with the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (MANET+) for the ceremony, which will include lighting of the official candle. The theme for this year is “Never Give Up, Never Forget.À

The launch is an honour for the tiny African country, focusing global attention on the nation, and providing an opportunity for recognising, sharing, and learning from worldwide experiences in HIV/AIDS work. The lighting of the candle in Lilongwe will kick off memorial programmes around the world.
The Memorial Candle is one of the oldest and largest worldwide civil society events focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy, a global commemoration done every year global to remember those who died of AIDS-related illnesses, and give hope to those affected and infected.
For Malawi to be chosen to host the launch, which will be covered by global media like the BBC and CNN, the nation had to meet several criteria. Women are playing a vital role in preventing HIV and caring for those affected, and this event both recognises them, and is an opportunity to call for even greater efforts.
According to Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary for the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for HIV /AIDS and Nutrition, women are at the forefront of coping with HIV and AIDS, with a large number of women-led coalitions, organisations, and support groups across the country championing the cause. 
She pointed to the event as a way to strengthen these initiatives. "Malawian women will share experiences and form net works during the event with other international delegates," said Shawa at a 1 April press briefing in Lilongwe.
In announcing Malawi as the location for the event, the Global Health Council noted the positive roles that government and civil society are playing, but also the challenges ahead.  “Our partnership with MANET+ in Malawi has given the Global Health Council the opportunity to move the opening ceremony of the Candlelight Memorial to a country that is facing a daunting public health challenge with courage and commitment,” said Todd Lawrence, international coordinator of the Candlelight Memorial programme at the Global Health Council.
“We have seen impressive cooperation exhibited by many civil society organisations working to stop HIV/AIDS on the ground in Malawi as well as a strong working partnership between civil society and the government of Malawi. This is exactly the kind of coordinated effort that can serve as a positive example to other countries working to stop the pandemic.”
According to the Global Health Council, ninety-six percent of people with HIV live in the developing world, most in sub-Saharan Africa.  Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS because of their often lower economic and education status, resulting from systemic gender inequality.
In some African countries, three quarters of those infected are women – many of whom have not had more than one sexual partner. More than one in five pregnant women in six African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) is living with HIV/AIDS.
In Malawi, over 57 % of people living with HIV/AIDS are women. Women also make up the majority of people caring for those affected by HIV. Women’s vulnerability is partly because of gender imbalances within their own homes – the ability to negotiate for safer sex, and cultural expectations or economic dependence, which make it difficult to leave situations where they are at risk.
The gender imbalance of HIV and AIDS reaches across the continent, and thus, women’s participation and awareness is vital.     However, going for HIV testing and participating in prevention of mother to child transmission (PMCT) programmes can go a long way in helping to reduce prevalence
The Global Health Council also noted that the Malawi government has greatly involved People Living with HIV in efforts, and nutrition support is available to those affected.  There is a high level of political will and commitment by the government. Malawi is one of the few world countries where non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are funded by the government to cope the pandemic, through the National AIDS Commission (NAC).
The Malawi media has also played a positive role in reporting success stories of government, organisations and people. Charles Kampango director of MANET+ attributed positive stories related to HIV and AIDS as having helped promote Malawi’s best practices globally.
The only way Malawi can conquer HIV and AIDS greatly involving women who are in the majority and more vulnerable. While Malawi has made some positive strides in raising awareness and caring for those affected by HIV, there is still much work to be done. As we remember those who have died, those who are living with HIV, and all those affected, we must be sure that we are especially not forgetting the women.
Daniel Manyowa is a freelance journalist based in Malawi. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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