Malawi: Buoyed By Technology, Malawi On Cusp of Ending HIV/Aids

Lilongwe — The country is on course to end the epidemic by 2030.

A largely impoverished nation of more than 18 million people, Malawi has been making steady progress against the epidemic first diagnosed 34 years ago.

In 2017, 90 percent of people living with HIV in the Southern African country knew their status. Some 71 percent of people living with HIV had access to treatment and 61 percent of people living with the condition had a suppressed viral load.

This is against the 90-90-90 targets, an ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) set the targets in 2014.

These aim to achieve a situation whereby 90 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.

The health situation room, a software platform designed to help the government make informed decisions about policies and programmes related to health, including HIV, is among key to Malawi attaining its targets.

It has become the latest country to launch the technology, after Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Uganda and Zambia. Namibia and Mozambique have started the projects but are yet to implement. Zimbabwe is at the implementation phase.

Speaking at the launch in the capital Lilongwe, Malawi President, Arthur Peter Mutharika, said the tool was an important step forward.

"The health situation room is a demonstration of my government's commitment towards accountability and transparency," Mutharika said.

"My desire is that the health situation room will show us where to focus to improve even further in our quest for a healthier Malawi," the president added.

According to UNAIDS, the innovative tool bolsters national information systems through real-time visualisation of information from multiple data sets. It will enable leaders and programme managers to improve health programmes to achieve the 90-90-90 targets.

Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said the health situation room would strengthen the country's health sector.

"The health situation room is an important innovation as it shares real-time data to improve the understanding of the country's HIV epidemic and other health challenges," Sidibé said.

"It will guide Malawi's response and help officials to close the gaps, ensuring that no one is left behind as the country gets on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030," the UNAIDS director enthused.

Around 1 million people are living with HIV in Malawi, with new HIV infections in 2017 down by 40 percent since 2010, according to the UN agency.

However, infections among young women and adolescent girls aged 15-24 years remain high and account for more than one in four new infections per year.

The first case of HIV/AIDS in Malawi was reported at Lilongwe's Kamuzu Central Hospital in 1985. The response by the government led by Hastings Kamuzu Banda was slow. There were vast improvements under Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004) and Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012).

Because of campaigns by government, non-governmental organisations and media, levels of awareness regarding HIV/AIDS are high among the general population.

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