World Aids Day: Malawi commits to ‘getting to zero’

Malawi join the rest of the world in celebrating World AIDS Day –December 1 with a message that there has been significant progress to curb new infections and reduce Aids related deaths, therefore expressing commitment to zero-option in the fight against the epidemic.

World Aids Day is an opportunity for people to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to remember those who have died of the disease and to celebrate accomplishments, such as increased access to treatment and prevention services.

Zero-option

The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 is “Getting to Zero.” After 30 years of the global fight against HIV/AIDS, this year the focus is on achieving three targets: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.

Dr. Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary in the office of the president and cabinet responsible for HIV/AIDS, says Malawi is heading towards “zero new HIV infections”, saying the number of people dying from the disease is now at 5 percent down from 11 percent in 2004.

UNAIDS latest report also said HIV/AIDS related deaths worldwide have also decreased by 21 percent, with Malawi among the nations who have registered drop in deaths.

Shawa said the progress has been made due increase of the number of HIV infected people receiving life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) medication and the nutritional support.

She said about 400,000 people are on ARVs in Malawi.

Shawa said in 2004, every one hour, 10 Malawians were dying of Aids. That has gone down from 11 percent to 5 percent.

Death sentence

But, worrying factor now with that Malawi like some southern African countries are likely to be most affected over the next three years as funding from one of the world’s biggest donors dries up.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria called off its next funding round after failing to secure the minimum $13 billion (S$17 billion) needed to fund its programs. The fund said earlier this month it was cutting new grants for countries battling the diseases.

The public-private fund is the single largest donor body for HIV funding and provides more than 70 per cent of funds for ARV drugs in developing nations.

Campaigners have since warned of an impending disaster.

“The quality of treatment will be heavily compromised,” said Safari Mbewe, spokesman for the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Malawi, where about 10 per cent or 960,000 of the country’s population live with the disease that attacks the human immune system, had pinned their hopes on new grants to cope with an estimated 70,000 new infections next year.

But Shawa said the government would provide the necessary and critical leadership role in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Meanwhile, MP Khumbo Kachali (Mzimba South West) made a suggestion in parliament to  introduce “a levy on something like beer for the proceeds to assist us to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.”

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