Building Integrated HIV/AIDS Services into Malawi's Health Sector

At the opening of the new Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre in Ntcheu, Malawi, the country's Minister of Health took the opportunity to encourage Malawians to participate in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"Why should we be afraid to come to this beautiful centre to check our sero status? HIV/AIDS is not a sin. It is a health problem," said Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba to the gathered crowd of over 300 people.

Located at the district hospital, the new health center is part of a USAID-funded program led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) to integrate voluntary counseling and testing services with the provision of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) to HIV/AIDS patients in the region. The new center contains three counseling and testing rooms, two consulting rooms, a conference room and a laboratory. Even before the launch of the new center, MSH worked with local partners to begin dispensing ARVs to patients in Ntcheu. In a speech to inaugurate the new health center and commend the valuable services it will provide, the Minister expressed gratitude to USAID and MSH for what he described as "an enormous contribution" to Malawi's health sector.

Malawi's health challenges with HIV/AIDS are substantial. Almost one million people in the country have AIDS, most of them young men and women. Over 600,000 people have died from the disease in the past two years, when the Ministry of Health began official recordkeeping related to HIV/AIDS.

With a focus on integrating HIV/AIDS programs into growing service offerings in Malawi, MSH's Reducing Child Morbidity and Strengthening Health Care Systems Project conducts a range of activities to improve health services throughout the country. In a nation where one child of every nine dies before reaching his first birthday, MSH is working with local decision makers to better manage drugs, information, and finances.

Such management is an essential part of providing quality services and improving population health. Without proper drug management, health providers cannot maintain stocks of medicines to treat clients; without accurate health data, decision makers cannot track disease patterns and allocate desperately needed resources; without good financial management, organizations are forced to shut their doors even as the need for their services grows.

For health programming efforts in Malawi, the Ministry of Health has officially recognized MSH's contribution to "improving welfare" through work in malaria control, nutrition, infection prevention, HIV/AIDS, evaluation and monitoring, and financial management of health services.

Though MSH's success in improving health services through management practices is often visible through better health statistics, greater client demand for services, and informed health staff, accomplishments like the new Ntcheu health center, according to the Malawi's Minister of Health, are "a tangible expression of strengthening Malawi's health sector." In the three weeks since the center opened, MSH staff in Malawi report that over thirty people have already enrolled for ARV treatment in Ntcheu.

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