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2/23/04 - AIDS IN MALAWI - 2004-02-24

The government of Malawi has launched its first countrywide AIDS program to provide care and treatment for those who suffer from the fatal disease.

When Bakili Muluzi, Malawi’s president, announced the initiative, he revealed that his own brother died from AIDS three years ago. It is time to “break the silence about H-I-V/AIDS,” said President Muluzi. “Why hide? The fight against the killer disease could only succeed if we break [the] barriers of silence, stigma, and discrimination.”

At least one million of Malawi’s population of eleven million are believed to have the H-I-V virus that causes AIDS. The United Nations reports that AIDS has reduced life expectancy in Malawi to about thirty-six years.

Contributing to the spread of the disease is misinformation and superstition. Many in Malawi wrongly believe that AIDS is a curse put on them by their ancestors for past wrongdoing. Heather Pavlich served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. She says that, “Word of H-I-V/AIDS is spread through radio messages and newspapers. But only eleven percent of the population have radios, and the majority of the people can’t read or write. They’ve heard of AIDS,” says Ms. Pavlich, “but not in detail.”

Malawi is not the only country that is suffering. Today, more than forty-million people are infected with H-I-V or AIDS, including more than twenty-five million in Africa. The virus is blood-borne and in most cases transmitted through unprotected sex. But it is also spread by drug abusers through the use of contaminated needles, and can be passed by pregnant women to their fetuses.

President George W. Bush says the U.S. “has the duty to confront this grave public health crisis”:

“Since January 2001, America has increased total spending to fight AIDS overseas one-hundred percent.”

The U.S. will spend fifteen-billion dollars, worldwide, through 2008. The U.S. has already pledged nearly two-billion dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Malawi’s new AIDS information program is a step in the right direction.