Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi will on Tuesday launch the
country's first-ever policy on HIV/Aids amid claims by health
officials that the alarming infection rates in the Southern
African nation have stabilised over the years.
Biswick Mwale, head of Malawi's national Aids commission, said
the policy, on which work started in 2000, will try to provide a
legal and administrative framework to combat the epidemic, which
infects 14,4% of the country's 11-million people.
"The estimated HIV prevalence among adults of 15 to 49 years in
Malawi in 2003 is 14,4%, which [is] 0,6% lower than the 2001 rate
of 15%," said Mwale.
Mwale said "statistically this does not represent a decrease in
prevalence but rather it indicates that the epidemic has
stabilised over the years".
However, in September, a World Bank report warned that up to half
of Malawi's professional workforce could die of HIV/Aids by 2005.
Professionals in the education and health sectors are particulary
affected in the impoverished nation, as are members of the army
and the police, the study said.
HIV/Aids has cut Malawi's life expectancy to just 36, according
to the United Nations Development Programme.
Mwale said about 760 000 adults Malawians are infected with HIV
of whom 56% are women. About 70 000 adults die of the disease
every year, he added.
"The implications of the state of the epidemic in the country are
quite serious and call for more concerted efforts by all sectors
to prevent new infections," Mwale said.
Malawi, where HIV/Aids and sexual topics are taboo, has had no
Aids policy for the past 21 years.
"We have operating without any guiding principle ... we want to
ensure the observation of human rights, including gender and
cultural sensitivity in the national response to the disease,"
Some Malawians continue to practise traditions such as "death
cleansing", which forces a widow to have sex with her
brother-in-law before her husband is buried in order to "cleanse"
With donor support, Malawi in 1999 launched a $110-million,
five-year plan to break the silence about Aids.