Malawian President Launches First National AIDS Program, Discloses Brother Died of AIDS-Related Illness
Malawian President Bakili Muluzi on Tuesday launched the country's first national AIDS program and announced that his brother had died of AIDS-related illness three years ago, Reuters/New York Times reports (Reuters/New York Times, 2/11). The policy document, titled "A Call to Renewed Action," provides legal and administrative guidelines for the country's fight against HIV/AIDS (Tenthani, Panafrican News Agency, 2/10). The guidelines include plans for prevention, treatment and care of AIDS orphans and bans workplace discrimination on the basis of HIV status. Although the government previously has said that it could not afford to provide antiretroviral treatment, the policy includes plans to provide antiretroviral drugs and other AIDS treatments (Mzembe, Reuters/AlertNet, 2/10). According to Biswick Mwale, head of the country's National AIDS Commission, Malawi will set aside $3 million in funding to help subsidize antiretroviral drug treatments, and the overall program will be funded by grants from UNAIDS, the European Union, the United States, England, Canada, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that UNAIDS and other donors had committed up to $400 million for the fight against AIDS in Malawi, adding that donors were willing to offer long-term support if the "money reaches people and the agenda is on action and implementation" (Mponda, AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/10). Muluzi said that the country's leadership was committed to ensuring accountability in the use of donor funds (Reuters/AlertNet, 2/10). An estimated 15% of the country's 15 million people are HIV-positive (Reuters/New York Times, 2/11).
"I attend funeral ceremonies but the causes of death are not disclosed," Muluzi said, adding, "I have no apologies for what I am saying now. My own brother, Dickson, third born in our family, died of AIDS three years ago." Muluzi said that his family decided to disclose the cause of his brother's death in order to encourage other Malawians to "be open about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS" (Panafrican News Agency, 2/10). In addition, Muluzi announced that he had been tested for HIV, saying, "The good news is that [the result] is good news." Muluzi said that just 3% of Malawians have undergone an HIV test (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/10). The new policy encourages voluntary HIV testing and mandates that security forces -- including the army, police, prison and immigration departments -- screen recruits and periodically test officers for HIV. The new policy states, "For national security reasons it is important that the army, police, prisons and immigration departments be permitted to carry out HIV tests as part of their pre-recruitment and periodic general medical assessment of staff for purposes of establishing fitness for work" (Panafrican News Agency, 2/10).
The Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the Malawi Network of AIDS Support Organizations and the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS on Wednesday issued a joint statement praising Muluzi's announcement. "Most Malawians shun voluntary testing and counseling for fear of stigma if their status proves positive," the statement said, adding, "We hope President Muluzi's move will encourage new enthusiasm for testing and counseling" (Tenthani, Associated Press, 2/11). Mwale said that the new policy will provide the legal and administrative framework necessary to effectively fight HIV/AIDS in the country, adding, "We have been operating without any guiding principle and we want to ensure the observation of human rights, including gender and cultural sensitivity, in the national response to the disease" (Panafrican News Agency, 2/10). Piot said that the new policy would "recharge our batteries in the long fight against HIV/AIDS and slow down the spread of the disease" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/10). Collins Magalasi, national coordinator of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, said that it is against the principals of human rights to mandate HIV testing for officers. However, Doreen Sanje, a senior official at the country's AIDS Commission, said that the requirement would not prevent HIV-positive people from serving in the country's security forces but would help determine where they would be deployed, adding, "This is only practicable" (Panafrican News Agency, 2/10).