My silver lining

My thoughts have been heavy lately, as I imagine any person's would seeing other humans suffering on a daily basis. I've had my nose online reading the latest research on malnutrition and in books here at our compound, attempting to understand this issue as much as I can on both a cellular level and social level. I've met others here in Malawi this week who are conducting research on the long-term affects of malnutrition in children and how it affects them as adults and have had some great conversations. It's very hard to see children who not only do not get enough food, but do not get enough of the right types of food, knowing that it will indeed affect their entire life of growth and development even if they do survive. It seems like such a simple problem to be solved, the issue of feeding people, but I'm learning how complex issues surrounding malnutrition can be.
This week we traveled to five different remote villages for clinic. One of the clinics our team held one morning was so small- meaning not a lot of people had been showing up. I asked one of the nurses why she thought so few people were accessing our clinic when it was an obvious need for many of the families living in the area. She pointed to the HIV clinic behind our own makeshift operation, which that day consisted of weight scales, a height board, on a bench under a mango tree, and said that there was an incredible stigma here in the village with HIV/AIDS. Many of the mothers in the past who received the chiponde (fortified peanut paste) were HIV positive and so many people in the village now associate the two together. They assume that every mother who receives chiponde is HIV positive (not true), forcing mothers who are HIV negative to choose between people assuming they are positive for accessing our program or a life-saving treatment for their child. My mind was swirling with frustration over a stigma I've worked against for years as an HIV educator. This situation, however, was different than what I've encountered before. The social pressure was causing these mothers to make a decision to not access our services that could mean life or death for her child. At the end of the clinic we encouraged all of our village health assistants to continue to educate the village that chiponde is for everyone, not just those who are HIV positive. I left with a heavy heart that day.
I have to say the silver lining of it all for me this week is how effective the RUTF is that we use as well as getting the chance to be involved in this research to improve the formula. I love getting into the field every day and having the opportunity to do so much hands-on public health work. It's incredibly rewarding to work for an organization that has such incredible vision, despite the challenges, and holds their own standards higher than most organizations. There is nothing more that I love than to wrap my MUAC tape around a chubby arm of a baby who has improved after weeks of treatment on the formula and telling the mother in Chichewa that her child is Alibueno (healthy). I love working with mothers and children in this capacity.