19-year-old HIV+ Malawian girl moves global audience

Delegates, who included top world politicians and academicians, to the global UNAIDS-Lancet Commission Summit in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe could not help it but shed tears after being moved by an appeal from a nineteen-year old HIV positive girl urging global leaders to move quickly to find a cure for HIV and AIDS.

Shyleen Mvula, a student who last year sat for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) and is waiting to be enrolled at one of the country’s universities moved the audience further when she talked about the stigma faced by school going HIV children.

“I only have three wishes in my life: I don’t want to be treated differently; I want to live my dreams; and lastly I want a cure for Aids that it should be found,” she told the delegates who also included Malawi’s President Joyce Banda and other commissioners of the UNAIDS-Lancet Commission.

President Banda co-chairs the Commission along Professor Peter Piot who is Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Shireen Mvula, a young person living with HIV, speaking to the delegates  during the openning of the conference.

Shireen Mvula, a young person living with HIV, speaking to the delegates during the openning of the conference.

Shyleen added: “I am glad that 30 years after HIV was discovered we are now taking life prolonging drugs that have seen some of us living up to today. However, the most challenge especially for us children is stigma. This stigma begins at home, follow us at schools that even when teachers would want to accept us we are not welcome among peers.”

She said the stigma challenge was most evident to those taking ARVs as they are subjected to questions forcing them not to hide their status.

“I was born with HIV and I am glad that I have been given this opportunity to speak at this conference representing the present and future generation of people living with HIV,” said Shyleen.

She further challenged the summit to make things new and let HIV and AIDS be just part of history.

Another moving speech came from a primary school girl Edith Namaraka who appealed to the delegates and President Banda personally to protect the young generation on vices such as trafficking, defilement, child labour, and several other abuses that are common.

“Today we hear of big men raping children as young as one year old, there are several bad cultural practices, sometimes we are forced into early marriages at the age as young as 10, most of our parents die and are still dying while we are young, and there is rampant child labour,” she said.

After the two girls’ speeches President Banda, who seemingly looked touched, could not help it but asked them for a photo-opportunity.

In her address to the delegates Banda expressed concern that young people especially female were the most affected with HIV and AIDS.

 

“It (HIV and AIDS) has had a disproportionate effect on our young people; at a time in their lives when they should be most productive, they have been consumed with sickness and death. It has robbed them, and us, as a continent, of our future,” she said.

She challenged the delegates that although they come from different fields and backgrounds, they share a commitment to excellence and a passion to overcome one of the greatest challenges in the world.

“Today we have the tools we need to confront and overcome AIDS and confine it to the history books where it belongs. We are at a crucial point and must seize the opportunity before us.  We must take action now,” she said.

Banda is currently the UN Ambassador and Champion of HIV and AIDS in the Sadc region.

The UNAIDS-Lancet Commission was launched in May 2013 during the African Union summit in Ethiopia under the theme “From Aids to Sustainable Health with its main mandate to shape the post-2015 global health landscape and realize a zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Apart from Banda and Piot, the Commission has more than 30 commissioners who includes Heads of State, policy makers, HIV/AIDS practitioners and development experts.

Other commissioners who attended the Lilongwe summit include UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, who was convenor of the summit, former President of Botswana Festus Mogae, Rwandese first lady Jeanette Kagame and Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, first lady of Gabon.

President Dr Joyce Banda who is also the host speaking during the openning of the conference.

President Dr Joyce Banda who is also the host speaking during the openning of the conference.-Photo by Felix Washon/Mana

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