Joyce Kamwana, Malawi
Strong leadership is needed to ensure diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria are central to national healthcare plans
Joyce Kamwana has turned her life around since she was diagnosed with HIV over 20 years ago. Today, she is a passionate activist and is driven to help her fellow Malawians as they deal with the disease.
More about this health hero
For just shy of 20 years, Joyce Kamwana has been a committed HIV/Aids activist. Every step of the way, her journey has been tough. Testing positive for HIV at the age of 25 in 1988, the mother of two lost her husband to the illness just three years later. Society didn't offer her much in the way of support. "People said I wasn't going to live long and that my children would follow me quickly," she says. "I lost my job and couldn't afford treatment."
Through positive living and adhering to a good diet, Joyce survived for 15 years without any treatment until in 2003 she gained access to free anti-retrovirals through her involvement with the UN's Gipa – greater involvement of people living with Aids – programme. But, later that year, a change in policy meant all medical treatment was to be paid upfront – a luxury Joyce could little afford on her $200 volunteers living allowance. Thankfully Joyce now has access to free treatment, with the help of the Global Fund. And, in recognition of the important contribution the Global Fund makes – to Joyce, it is "a matter of life and death" – she is currently promoting the "Here I am Campaign" ahead of the third replenishment conference later this year.
For 47-year-old Joyce, it's not just her health which has changed since her original diagnosis all those years ago. She has also been able to make a "positive contribution" to society. "I am driven by anything and everything to do with HIV/Aids," she says. From awareness raising to national testing campaigns, Joyce is on hand to support her fellow Malawians. "Apart from activism and advocacy work I've worked on panel discussions on national radio and TV on HIV related issues," she says. "I help to supervise during HIV testing week campaigns in Malawi. I go as a national supervisor to the districts in Malawi during the world aids day commemorations on 1 December.
And she also helps instill a positive attitude to life in people living with HIV, helping them with their new lifestyle and assisting them find support groups they can turn to. Joyce also develops materials on HIV, human rights and gender for the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.
Joyce is no stranger to Malawi's corridors of power, having worked for the ministry of education, the ministry of agriculture and the department of nutrition, HIV and Aids. And she believes her country's government shown a "great commitment through leadership" which has helped HIV issues "to get the attention required". "We have the president who is the person who personally champions the fight against HIV and Aids," she adds.
From the dark days of diagnosis, Joyce has turned her life around and can be proud of her role in helping save lives throughout Malawi.