Free AIDS drugs reduce Malawi death rates

People carry HIV/AIDS prevention posters during a boys initiation into manhood ceremony in Njoloma village, Malawi, August 27, 2006. REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Greater access to free medicine has helped slash AIDS-related deaths in Malawi by 75 percent in the last four years, a senior government official said on Monday.

HIV/AIDS has been blamed for 59 percent of deaths among those aged between 15 to 59 years in the southern African country, which has a population of 13 million.

But Malawi has made progress since 2004, when it started to offer free antiretroviral therapy -- drugs that help treat immunodeficiency virus -- to thousands of patients.

“I am happy that AIDS related deaths have decreased by over 75 percent over the last four years in comparison with the AIDS related deaths we had in 2003-2004 because of increased free treatment,” said Mary Shawa, Malawi’s principle secretary for


Malawi has had about 800,000 AIDS related deaths since 1985, when the first case was reported. As of March this year, the government has put 159,111 people on free antiretroviral drugs and 106,547 of those are still alive.

“This represents a 67 percent survival rate. But we still need to do more, because those who did not make it may have died because they started the treatment late or did not have access to proper nutrition,” said Shawa.

Reporting by Mabvuto Banda, Editing by Dina Kyriakidou