Thoko Mwapasa, Chief of Party in Malawi for the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, died on January 22 due to complications from COVID-19. She was 44.
A trained HIV counselor and communicator dedicated to reducing HIV stigma and increasing access to health care services for the most vulnerable, Thoko was remembered as generous, patient and a loving co-worker and friend. Several staff members have noted since her death that they have lost a beloved mentor, someone they could approach about anything, both work and personal issues.
“Thoko had a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh that could light up any room,” says CCP’s Jennifer Boyle, the Malawi team leader.
This sentiment is echoed by Glory Mkandawire, the former Chief of Party in Malawi. “Thoko was a great colleague and teammate, a great listener and a friend I knew and felt deep down in my heart was always there and ready to support,” Mkandawire says. “I will deeply miss her.”
Thoko, who joined CCP’s One Community HIV-prevention project in 2016, led the project as it wrapped up in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gripping the world. The project successfully worked to reduce the vulnerability of people impacted by Malawi’s HIV epidemic, particularly the nation’s children, and to prevent new HIV infections by helping people understand their status and be treated for HIV.
“Thoko still had so much to do and contribute and such fantastic technical, management, communication and diplomatic skills,” says Dana Loll, who worked closely with Thoko in Malawi. “Her patience with sub-partners, government staff, USAID and other implementing partners was unparalleled. She made everyone feel heard and appreciated and then weighed all perspectives and took the appropriate course of action.”
Thoko leaves behind a husband, Professor Victor Mwapasa, a professor at the University of Malawi College of Medicine, and three children. She lost her elder brother, Francis Mblizi, to COVID-19 just four months ago.
Thoko earned an M.S. in counseling psychology from the University of West Alabama and an MPH from the University of Malawi College of Medicine. Before coming to CCP, Thoko worked in Malawi for ADRA, the Adventist Development Relief Agency, in the field of development communication using radio and television. She loved telling stories to help inspire behavior change.
“Her dedication to the people of Malawi was unmatched,” says former colleague Amanda Berman. “During my time in Malawi, her door was always open for anything – whether it be a casual chat or Chichewa lesson, or a work-related matter. Thoko’s loss is a terrible one, not just for her family and friends, but for CCP and the entire Malawian global health community.”