Actress Alexandra Daddario Goes to Malawi to Fight HIV and Malaria

Actress Alexandra Daddario (2017’s Baywatch) is using her platform to follow in the footsteps of the ever-iconic Elizabeth Taylor. She's a champion for The Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation's new partnership with the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, and she recently traveled to Malawi to see the organizations' handiwork providing testing and treatment for HIV and malaria first-hand.

According to the Nothing But Nets’s website, malaria and HIV combined cause more than 2 million deaths each year. But The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA)’s mobile health clinics are making a huge impact on their treatment in Malawi, helping more than 600,000 people gain access to HIV treatment and care, says ETAF managing director Joel Goldman.

When we hopped on the phone with Daddario to talk about her trip, she said it was an “emotionally overwhelming” experience but one she wouldn’t trade for anything. Scroll down to hear what else Daddario had to say about her experience and learn more about the partnership.

Photographed by Samora Chapman for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and Nothing But Nets.

Why did you want to work with the ETAF and Nothing But Nets?
These two groups are actively working to reduce the number of HIV cases. When this opportunity was brought to me and I first read up on it, I was overwhelmed to learn that one in every four people in certain regions have HIV or are dying from malaria. And there is a way to help these people and prevent the spread of these diseases that just requires money. I realized that the work this partnership is doing is not only beneficial to the region, but it's also beneficial to the entire world because it's a model for how we can help prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and malaria globally. It’s nice to be part of something that lets me see the results as the partnership grows and I continue working with them.

What did you expect before going on the trip? Had you ever been to Malawi before?
No. I'd never been to Africa at all. It was not something that was on my travel list. But it was absolutely an amazing trip. Malawi is this beautiful country with incredible people. It's a really peaceful place, but unfortunately there's no healthcare in certain regions. It's very rural. I felt a combination of uplifted and depressed, because these people shouldn’t have to die from these diseases when there are treatments available.

Photographed by Samora Chapman for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and Nothing But Nets.

What’s most impressive to you about the mobile health clinics?
Imagine this: 10 years ago, five years ago maybe, if your child was dying of malaria, you just had to watch him or her die. Now, if you bring your sick child into a health clinic, you just might be able to see your child live. I mean, that’s an incredible thing. By contributing small amounts of money to this very well-designed, very efficient infrastructure that's been set up, you can help make that kind of impact.

Can you describe one of your most memorable experiences from your time in Malawi?
We did a hike up Mount Mulanje—this beautiful mountain in the middle of Malawi—and everyone in the villages we saw along the way came out and greeted us. At one point we had people following us, running after us for miles on this hike. And no one knows who I am there. No one knows me as an actor. There's no TV. No one has seen any of my roles—it's not like that. We didn’t even speak the same language, but sometimes we just stood across from the villagers looking at one another, smiling, and trying to communicate in other ways. They were just happy to see us and welcome us. That was a fascinating and moving experience.

Photographed by Samora Chapman for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and Nothing But Nets.

What else did you do while you were there?
We went to the mobile clinics and I got to be by one for their Men’s Health Day. A huge part of the issue is making sure that everybody gets tested for HIV. You have to know your status to then get treatment and prevent the spread. Then the risk of spreading HIV around the community is a lot smaller. The clinics were having trouble getting men to come in because, societally, men are treated separately from women. So they designed this Men's Health Day, to encourage men to get tested. It’s working, and that was wonderful to see.

Now that you’re back home, how have you changed?
It definitely puts things into perspective. I really would like to go back. I've already spoken to [ETAF managing director] Joel about it. You know, it’s made me feel hopeful coming back and seeing people wanting to help. I think right now Americans, a lot of people in the world, are feeling overwhelmed. With everything going on, you can feel sort of helpless. That's something I've really been struggling with, but I think that this trip was really great for me because I got to see how donating small amounts of time or money can make a big difference. Supporting this partnership actually makes you feel like you're part of making the world a better place. That's a huge take-away from this trip. I see myself working with ETAF and Nothing but Nets for years to come.

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