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Malawi stops workers’ HIV payouts

Malawi has pulled the plug on payments to public workers with HIV.

The £21 a month meant to help HIV positive staff eat a better diet will be replaced with ‘nutrition food bags’, after staff allegedly falsely claimed HIV status and spent the cash on prostitutes and drink.

Nearly 40,000 civil servants, out of about 170,000, in the south east African country claimed the handout which was started in 2007.

They will now get a food package worth the same amount, said the government’s HIV chief Dr Mary Shawa.

According to Shawa, the money was not being spent its intended purposes as some people used the funds “to drink beer and go with prostitutes”.

“They were further spreading the virus,” she said.  “The majority did not use the money to improve nutrition of their bodies,” she told Zodiak radio this week.

“It was on that basis that the decision was made to make sure that we change to giving the concerned HIV positive civil servants a nutrition bag,” said Shawa.The turnaround is part of a government review into its HIV policy and how best to fund it.

Malawi is one of the countries worst affected by Aids, with about 13 per cent of the 13m population affected. The illness has cut life expectancy in the southern African nation to 36. But there were also many “ghost” beneficiaries of the cash-handouts who were not HIV-positive.

“Some people brought false documents to say ‘I am HIV positive’ when they are not,” said Dr Shawa.

The civil service is the biggest employer in the country, where more than half the population live below the poverty line. Tens of thousands of Malawians die of Aids every year. After years of silence, the authorities spoke out about the crisis. A programme to tackle HIV-Aids was launched in 2004, with President Muluzi revealing that his brother had died from the disease.

The government and global donors have both made successful efforts to boost access to treatment for HIV and Aids and to improve schemes to prevent them. But factors such as the scale of the epidemic and the shortage of cash and trained medical professionals resources available have stood in the way of progress.

Malawi has just one doctor per 50,000 people – one of the lowest levels in the world, according to figures from Aids charity, Avert. Although funding for healthcare has gone up, there are simply not enough trained staff available.

Hayley attribution