May 12, 2004

Malawi rolls out free Aids drugs

Malawi has announced that it will provide free anti-retrovirals drugs to thousands of people infected with the HIV-virus. Health Minister Yusuf Mwawa said he hoped to reach an extra 30.000 people over the next year under the $196m five-year programme. Some 14% of Malawi's 11 million people have the virus. Critics have accused the government of electioneering, by announcing the programme just a week before the 18 May polls to choose a new president. Mr Mwawa dismissed the allegations, saying that the government could not stop functioning because of the election.

The health minister also noted that at present, just 6.000 people received the Aids drugs out of 150.000 who needed them. According to him, the free drugs programme "at long last will open doors of hope for those who have all too long been living with the despair infected by the HIV/Aids scourge." Furthermore, he noted that 50 sites throughout the country had been identified for the programme which was being funded by the Global HIV/Aids fund. The sites would include hospitals run by the Malawi Defence Force and the Malawi Police Service, two sectors seriously hit by the pandemic. Bizwick Mwale, Executive Director of the National Aids Commission says that every year, some 80.000 Malawians died of Aids-related complications. There were 70.000 new HIV infections a year and 70% of hospital admissions are Aids-related, he explained and concluded by saying: "All sectors of the economy are affected."

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