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South African Press Association
Malawi to launch first Aids policy

February 9, 2004
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," Mwale said.

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" his spirit.

With donor support, Malawi in 1999 launched a $110-million, five-year plan to break the silence about Aids.