DfID consultants ‘goofed’ on Malawi Stigma Index

A member of the Africa Civil Society Health Advocates (ACSHA), Owen Nyaka says the recent 15/10/1495 Stigma Index Study in Malawi is ‘a mockery, an abuse, discriminatory and violation of human rights’.

 Hide and seek  consultants ?
Hide and seek consultants ?
V & E consultants sorting data collectors with part payment at Game Stores carpark in Lilongwe - Old Town.
V & E consultants sorting data collectors with part payment at Game Stores carpark in Lilongwe – Old Town.

Stigma Index is an international tool that aims at collecting information on stigma, discrimination and the rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) to help in advocacy efforts. The tool has been developed and is implemented by and for PLHIV to document the various experiences within a particular community regarding HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Nyaka says the 2016 Malawi Stigma Index exercise is a flop compared with a similar exercise which was conducted six years ago in a very professional manner by Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (MANET plus). This year’s exercise is conducted by V & E consultants who have been identified and hired directly by DfID.

“We strongly believe that outcome of the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV in Malawi in the last twelve months would not reflect the real situation of the reality on the lived experiences,” says Nyaka.

He said the data collection process was a mockery and poorly timed because it was done during rainy season as such most of the respondents were busy preparering their field gardens hence there was low turn up of the people affected coming to their respective support groups to participate in the study.

He also said the process was discriminatory because some sectors such as prisoners, people with disability, the elite group, sex workers and men-who-have-sex with-men have been left out in the study.

In the previous 2010 Stigma Index study, MANET plus recruited Eddie Banda to assist as Project Coordinator as such every constituency was consulted through their national organizations and there was a balanced proportional sample size of people of different backgrounds in the society.

Organizations such as Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) made MSM available for interviews and that District Assemblies helped with district coordination of individual participants and institutions.

Unlike the previous study; there was too much workload this year on the Data Collection team leaders because in additional to supervision they were also responsible to identify and conduct all communications with the respondents. In some institutions like prisons it was not easy for the teams to conduct interviews because the consultants did not seek written permission in advance.

“Some teams were denied entry to conduct the study in prisons. It’s key to measure stigma and discrimination within prisons, the consultants that were entrusted by DfID lagged seriousness and that they were not familiar with the country’s system. Where on earth can the inmates being interviewed without asking permission.

“To avoid this mess, in future there is need for funders to allow MANET plus to take charge full responsibility when implement the exercise rather than trusting the consultants to independently do the exercise,” says Nyaka adding that the activity is for and by people living with HIV hence MANET plus as an umbrella organization for PLHIV sector in the country must do the ‘stigma index study’.

Nyaka, who is also member of the revival steering committee of Southern Africa Network of AIDS Service Organisations (SANASO), said the 2016 stigma index study is also an abuse and violation of human rights to data collectors that were doing the exercise.

“The data collectors are suffering in silence, at moment they have not got full payment of their honorarium for the work which elapsed first week of February, this year. They have worked for it and they deserve to get their payment,” says Nyaka adding ‘some data collectors used their money for respondent’s honorarium and they deserve to be reimbursed.’

At one point the 2016 stigma index exercise was postponed first week of its commencement because of poor planning by the consultants for instance during a 3-day orientation held at Palm Harvest also popularly known as Mbolembole Lodge in Mponera; the field officers were sent home due to logistical problem; the data collectors had money to pay for their meals and accommodation since V and E consultants were on credit catering for refreshments and conference venue.

“Our findings shows that the situation was pathetic because people living with HIV were sleeping with empty stomach yet majority of them were taking ARV’s, we are very thankful to the consultants for their decision to temporarily cancel the exercises after notice that the situation was bad,” says Nyaka.

He said V and E consultants which are using Lilongwe Old town Game Stores car-park to do their office work started the exercise when they were not prepared because in the data collection tools, some questions of the Chichewa version were missing and in some pages the printed questions were incomplete yet in the final report the omitted questions has to be analysed.

During the actual field work, some data collection teams especially the team that went to Kalonga were stuck due to honorarium and fuel logistics, as such they were sleeping on the floor-four people in a single room because the consultants were unable to pay them allowances.

Nyaka wondered as to how one can effectively produce quality work when s/he has psychologically affected with no proper accommodation and food. The lack of motivation contributed to laziness in the 2016 Stigma Index exercise for instance one data collector (name withheld) was suspended after being found filling the questions without talking to respondents (doing under the tree interviews).

This year; about 4,560 PLHIV were expected to be interviewed whilst in the previous 2010 study 2, 272 PLHIV were successfully interviewed.

The 2010 successful implemented Index in Malawi was carried by and for PLHIV supported by research guidance and other expertise for effective implementation. The taskforce engaged Dr. Maureen Chirwa and Eric Umar from the then College of Medicine through an open recruitment process guided by UNAIDS consultancy recruitment instruments as Principle Investigator and co-investigator.

Dr. Chirwa and her team have extensively experience working with PLHIV and have published research on issues of HIV-related stigma in Malawi.

With initial resources mobilized through UNAIDS Malawi, the taskforce established the mechanism to implement the study, terms of reference for a multi-disciplinary team were developed and the team created the national management structure for the stigma index. Quarterly meetings were held to monitor and advice on the progress of the study.

The taskforce included representatives from MANET plus, National AIDS Commission (NAC), Ministry of Health, National Association of PLHIV and AIDS in Malawi (NAPHAM), Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (COWLHA), the Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), UNAIDS, the Malawi Human Rights Consultative Committee (MHRCC), Malawi Business Coalition against HIV and AIDS (MBCA) and the Department for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the Office of President and Cabinet (DNHA-OPC).

In the 2016 index study, there is no national taskforce and that DfID directly recruited and funded V and E consultants to conduct the exercise. On paper the consultants is led by a Zimbabwean national Edward Chigwedere, alongside Vincent and Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe who are Malawians.

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