‘They want our children to suffer’

By PK Lee

From where Esther Goba sat watching two football teams clad in “HIV-POSITIVE” T-shirts competing in a football tournament in
Limbe, Malawi, she wouldn’t strike you as someone who is at the frontlines of the life-or-death match against HIV/Aids.

But Esther, aged 53, is doubly affected: she has been living with HIV for the last 8 years and she is a nurse with a passion for supporting people like herself and ensuring that they stick to their life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.


Esther Goba © PK LEE / MSF

Last week she was one of the scores of supporters I saw next to a football pitch at the Chiwembe Technical Centre, in Limbe, where people living with HIV and staff from Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) HIV treatment projects in Malawi, played football as part of MSF’s HALFTIME! initiative. Representatives from the Malawi ministry of health, the support organisation National Association for People living with HIV/Aids in Malawi) and Dignitas International also participated.

HIV positive soccer players

MSF Halftime! football tournament of people living with HIV and staff in Limbe, Malawi © PK LEE / MSF

HALFTIME! is an MSF initiative to raise awareness of the impact of international donors withdrawing from funding HIV/Aids projects and treatment. While the other HALFTIME! events around the world (in Johannesburg, Brussels, Geneva and
Berlin) were hosted in cities, HALFTIME! in Malawi had a very different backdrop — beautiful mountain views, clear blue skies and villages dotting surrounding areas.

Esther has been working as an MSF staff nurse in Malawi’s Thyolo district for nine years now.

In 1995 when Esther’s husband died of Aids it was at a time when people in Malawi still knew very little about the disease. Later she started working with MSF in a prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme, motivating pregnant women to get tested for HIV. “One day I told myself: ‘Why don’t you get tested as well?’ ” Esther told me.

“I tested HIV positive in 2008 and I started ARV treatment later in the same year. To me ARV treatment means life and hope,” she said. “Since I learnt of my status, I had one hope — to educate my children. That’s the only thing I wanted to do in my life.”

Thanks to the ARV treatment, Esther achieved more than she hoped for. Not only is she able to see her four children growing into adults, but she is also able to make a difference in the lives of dozens other people living with HIV by working as a nurse.

As a medical worker in the battle against the HIV/Aids crisis, Esther has also witnessed the importance of continued funding for ARV drugs which has brought treatment closer to people in need. “By now I thought we would be talking about the improvement of ARV treatment, the management of side-effects and access to newer and better treatments. But instead we hear the international donors talking about cutting funding,” she said.

“If the donors cut the funding on ARV treatment, it’s like saying that they just want us to die, they want our children to suffer again, they want our children to be orphans,” said Esther. “We have the right for life. And we have the right for treatment.”

PK Lee is an MSF communications officer