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World AIDS Day: Communities Make the Difference

The commemoration of World AIDS Day is December 1st of each year. This day serves as an opportunity for people worldwide to stand together in solidarity with people living with HIV; to raise awareness, challenge stigma, and unite in the fight against HIV. This year’s theme is “Communities make the difference”, highlighting the important role communities play in the AIDS response. These communities are found at the international, national and local levels, creating platforms for advocacy, mobilization, and support. 

In Malawi, there are 1 million people currently living with HIV. Young people are particularly at risk, with 50% of new HIV infections affecting those aged 15 to 17 (UNAIDS Data 2019). Adolescent girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to HIV due to early marriage, sexual activity, and sexual violence. Female youth aged 15-19 are 10 times more likely to be married than their male counterparts, with 45.9% of young women having their first marriage before they turn 18 (International Center for Research on Women 2017). HIV disproportionately affects women in Malawi, resulting in even greater implications for other high-risk populations. Presently, there is estimated to be 670,000 orphans in Malawi as a result of AIDS, 110,000 of them having been born with HIV (UNAIDS Data 2016). Orphans and other youth made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS must overcome tremendous barriers, facing diverse deterrents such as poverty and stigma.

The extent to which HIV has effected Malawi and its youth is beyond comparable. As an NGO dedicated to supporting Malawi’s disadvantaged youth, D2D actively supports those living with and affected by HIV. D2D is embedded within its surrounding community, working alongside its members to identify issues and implement programs in response to said concerns. Several of D2D’s sponsored youth have been brought to our organization by members of the community, including chiefs, educators, and village development committees; many having lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS. In response to this, D2D not only provides its sponsored youth with full school tuition scholarships but covers costs for medical needs as well. With education at the forefront of our mission, D2D ensures that all sponsored youth receive holistic literacy through weekly life-skills training sessions. Sessions are separated by gender to establish a safe space and are taught by Malawian staff, using a curriculum developed by several community experts. The curriculum covers an array of topics, including sexual and reproductive health. Youth are educated on HIV prevention, as well as the discrimination and stigma surrounding people living with HIV.

On this World AIDS Day, D2D recognizes the need for greater mobilization of communities to address the barriers facing those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. D2D is committed to ensuring that all human rights are respected by supporting its community’s vulnerable youth, so they may become agents of social change in mobilizing and initiating activities that will promote health and education across for all.