Malawi launches HIV testing campaign

Launching the campaign in the administrative capital, Lilongwe, Health Minister Marjorie Ngaunje said HIV/Aids prevention efforts could come to naught if people do not come forward for treatment because they do not know they carry the virus.

“This situation poses a great threat to prevention efforts, including missed opportunities by many eligible Malawians to access care and support services,” said Ngaunje, who herself underwent an Aids test at the launch.

“It is about staying negative if you are not infected or taking advantage of the treatment, care and support services available throughout the country if you are HIV-positive,” she said.

The campaign, which is expected to reach more than 50 000 citizens in the poor Southern African country, follows the revelation that only 15 percent of the country’s population of 12 million people have been tested for HIV/Aids.

Malawi’s first case of HIV/Aids was identified in 1985, and by 2005 the country had 930 000 people living with the virus, 9 percent of whom were under 14.

Malawi has put about 47 000 infected people on free life-prolonging drugs with assistance from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But a further 178 000 need Aids treatment.

Nicholas Chitimba, who chairs Malawi’s Aids Commission, said more than 240 sites that are to be staffed by about 1 000 counsellors have been designated for HIV testing throughout the week.

He said the national campaign, which targets people aged between 14 and 49, is part of the country’s goal of testing one million Malawians by the end of 2007.

Malawi is one of only a few countries in Southern Africa to have a national HIV testing campaign.

In May, the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids said levels of the disease in Southern Africa, the world’s worst-affected region, were showing no sign of diminishing, and blamed a failure of leadership for the lack of progress.

About 14,9 million people in Southern Africa have Aids, 38 percent of the worldwide total of 38,6 million people at the end of 2005. ‘ Sapa-AFP.

July 2006
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