Government is expected to incur about $57.6 million (about K16.4 billion) per year to provide free new ARVs every year but the cost could change depending on the number of beneficiaries, a senior Ministry of Health official has said.

Director of HIV and Aids in the Ministry of Health Charles Chimwandira disclosed this on Sunday during Malawi Networks of Religious Leaders Affected with HIV and Aids (Manerela) conference in Lilongwe where several women on ARVs also petitioned government to fast-track the new drug regime due to the side effects.

He said the new ARVs would be available to all on free treatment by May next year, but the deadline could be earlier going by donors’ promises.

According to Chimbwandila, currently government is spending $5 (about K1 420) per bottle, but with the new ARVs government will be spending $12 (about K3,400) per bottle.

At the current 400,000 people benefitting from free ARVs, government could spend about US$57.6 million (K16.4 billion) per year to provide a bottle to each beneficiary monthly.

One of the Manerela members, Nancy Magwaya, cited ARVs with Stavudine element, a content in the current drug formula, as the ones causing serious complications in women.

“Women are losing natural (statures) with these ARVs and it is easy for people to identify a HIV infected woman since the changes happening are unusual. This has fuelled stigma and discrimination. The situation will lead to death if left unchecked,” she said.

Fears are growing that Malawi may not be able to sustain the new ARVs regime as the current Global Fund financing programme ends in 2014.

The programme funds almost 90 percent of Malawi’s National Aids programme and the government is negotiating for the next program beyond 2014.

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