26 October 2002
Let's Fight HIV/Aids Together, by President Muluzi
Malawi Insider – Opening remarks by his excellency the president Dr. Bakili Muluzi on the occasion of the national leadership symposium on HIV/Aids Sanjika palace, Blantyre friday, 25th october 2002
I have the pleasure of hosting this very important Leadership Symposium on HIV/AIDS here at my residence and I warmly welcome you all. Let me also sincerely welcome, in a special way, Dr. Callisto Madavo, The World Bank, Africa, Regional Vice President, to this Symposium.
The World Bank and the Government of Malawi have enjoyed very good relations for quite a long time, since Malawi's independence in 1964.
Likewise, we have been partners in development since then. I wish you to know that the Government of Malawi, its people and I personally, greatly appreciate the role the World Bank plays in our various poverty reduction and alleviation programmes such as health and education. I therefore consider this Leadership Symposium on HIV/AIDS as very important and of profound significance indeed. Why am I saying so, Ladies and Gentlemen? HIV/AIDS is a very serious problem in Malawi. Estimates made by the National AIDS Commission last year put the HIV prevalence at 15 percent of the population in the age range of 15 - 49 years. Statistics also show that we are likely to lose 25 percent to 50 percent of our work force by 2005.
In Malawi as in other parts of Africa, the majority of young people between the age of 15 and 24 years are infected and there are as many as six HIV positive girls for every one HIV positive boy. AIDS is having a negative impact on our society and the national economy. Qualified men and women are dying before making any meaningful contribution to the development of this country.
Unfortunately too few sexually active people have changed their behaviour and change is imperative. I am so concerned that if nothing is done our economy will be greatly affected due to the great loss of our human resource.
We need to do something about halting the further spread of the disease. My great concern is that if we do not find immediate solutions to overcome the problem of AIDS, we will not prosper economically and the future of our country will be uncertain. The main question facing Malawi is how and what it must do to effectively address the problem. It is my hope that all the discussions at this Symposium will focus on this truly and essential need, which is the real challenge for us.
Thailand and Uganda who confronted the HIV/AIDS epidemic head-on are now reaping the benefits of having reduced the rates of HIV infection. Uganda, the only Africa's success story, has greatly reduced its AIDS infection partly through an aggressive public education awareness campaign. I am saying that Uganda has done it. Why can't Malawi do it?
I strongly feel that we all need to accept that we have a very serious problem, which if not checked will negatively reverse the trends of our social and economic development.
Some of you may recall that I personally led the nation in an AIDS Awareness Big Walk here in Blantyre as early as 1994. Why did I do that? I did so to break the silence and show that HIV/AIDS is a very serious problem here in Malawi.
In addition, I have taken the lead in other HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns of sensitizing the public on the dangers of the disease. For example, during public meetings, I always begin my address by saying my slogan of "Tipewe Tipewe Edzi" (Let's Avoid contacting AIDS), asking Malawians to change their behaviour.
Furthermore, I tirelessly repeat this slogan on the radio and in newspapers. Besides, in some parts of Malawi, I have posted on billboards the message: "AIDS is killing Africa. Malawians change your behaviour now! Let us save our country."
Most recently, I personally showed my interest in seeking ways of addressing the problem when I directed that the National AIDS Commission should be in my office. I want to be monitoring closely our progress in the fight against the disease. In addition, I did so in order to emphasize my personal commitment, will and determination to seeking a solution to the HIV/AIDS problem.
Of also great concern to me are some of the traditions and beliefs, which are promoting the spread of HIV instead of preventing HIV infection amongst Malawians. I feel that there is need to strengthen awareness in the communities so that traditions such as chokolo, kuchotsa fumbi, fisi should be discouraged.
I thus wish to appeal to traditional chiefs as custodians of tradition to review some of the traditions and customs that are retrogressive and contribute to the further spread of HIV. I further believe that we need to strengthen communion among our leaders so that they can carry out the mission of fighting the disease in unison.
I believe that the public sector must also take a leading role in protecting its personnel and in committing the necessary human resources to HIV/AIDS awareness. Government has already approved a budget line for each Ministry and Department for HIV/AIDS. I challenge the leaders of the sectors to translate this policy into positive action.
The private sector is in a unique position to promote the prevention of HIV/AIDS. It should form more HIV/AIDS partnerships with NGOs and government to ensure an effective national response.
I wish also to propose formation of a business coalition in order to mobilize resources and advocate for greater response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I also believe that the Civil Society organizations, especially those that are community or home-based need to be empowered with skills, knowledge and resources to act from the grassroots level. Leaders should know that they are linked one to another and should have great concern in each community's problem. They should know that what is paramount is to reduce the further spread of the disease now and not tomorrow.
In our education programmes we need to sing the same song using the same words and rhythmic pattern to collectively fight the disease. I am aware that AIDS education programmes have in the past years been critically under-funded and as a result we have achieved little impact.
I am now profoundly grateful for the US$190 million (K15.2 billion) that the National AIDS Commission has received from the Fund to fight the HIV/AIDS scourge over the next 5 years.
Let me also assure you that the Government of Malawi and myself deeply appreciate all the financial support from the many bilateral and multilateral organizations with which Malawi has relationships, among them, the UN system including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a very successful Symposium and I thank you for your attention. May God bless you all and bless our nation.