Focus Information

What is HIV?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.

What is AIDS?
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease in which the body’s immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off certain infections, known as “opportunistic infections,” and other illnesses that take advantage of a weakened immune system. When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. These are the immune cells that normally protect us from disease. The hallmark of HIV infection is the progressive loss of a specific type of immune cell called T-helper or CD4 cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the individual vulnerable to various opportunistic infections and other illnesses, ranging from pneumonia to cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines someone as having a clinical diagnosis of AIDS if they have tested positive for HIV and meet one or both of these conditions:
– They have experienced one or more AIDS-related infections or illnesses;
– The number of CD4 cells has reached or fallen below 200 per cubic millimeter of blood (a measurement known as T-cell count).
In healthy individuals, the CD4 count normally ranges from 450 to 1200.

How quickly do people infected with HIV develop AIDS?
In some people, the T-cell decline and opportunistic infections that signal AIDS develop soon after initial infection with HIV. Most people remain asymptomatic for 10 to 12 years, and a few for much longer. As with most diseases, early medical care can help prolong a person’s life.

How many people are affected by HIV/AIDS?
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that there are now over 34 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide. Most of them do not know they carry HIV and may be spreading the virus to others. Here in the U.S., nearly one million people have HIV infection or AIDS roughly one out of every 250 people. At least 40,000 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year, and it is estimated that half of all people with HIV in the U.S. have not been tested and do not know they are carrying the virus. Since the beginning of the epidemic, AIDS has killed nearly 19 million people worldwide, including some 425,000 Americans. AIDS has replaced malaria and tuberculosis as the world’s deadliest infectious disease among adults and is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Over 13 million children have been orphaned by the epidemic.

How is HIV transmitted?
A person who is HIV-infected carries the virus in certain body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The virus can be transmitted only if such HIV-infected fluids enter the bloodstream of another person. This kind of direct entry can occur
(1) through the linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, and the opening at the tip of the penis; (2) through intravenous injection with a syringe; or (3) through a break in the skin, such as a cut or sore. Usually, HIV is transmitted through:

Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vaginal or anal) with someone who is HIV-infected.

Women are at greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than men, although the virus can also be transmitted from women to men. Anal sex (whether male-male or male-female) poses a high risk mainly to the receptive partner, because the lining of the anus and rectum are extremely thin and filled with small blood vessels that can be easily injured during intercourse.

Unprotected oral sex with someone who is HIV-infected.

There are far fewer cases of HIV transmission attributed to oral sex than to either vaginal or anal intercourse, but oral-genital contact poses a clear risk of HIV-infection, particularly when ejaculation occurs in the mouth. This risk is increased when either partner has cuts or sores, such as those caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), recent tooth-brushing, or canker sores, which can allow the virus to enter the bloodstream.

Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is HIV-infected.

Laboratory studies show that infectious HIV can survive in used needles for a month or more. One should never reuse or share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment. This includes needles or syringes used to inject illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as steroids. Other types of needles, such as those used for body piercing and tattoos, can also carry HIV.

Infection during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast-feeding (mother-to-infant transmission).

Any woman who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and thinks she may have been exposed to HIV even if the exposure occurred years ago should seek testing and counseling. Mother-to-infant transmission has been reduced to just a few cases each year in the U.S., where pregnant women are tested for HIV, and those who test positive are provided with drugs to prevent transmission and counseled not to breast-feed.

How is HIV not transmitted?
HIV is not an easy virus to pass from one person to another. It is not transmitted through food or air (for instance, by coughing or sneezing). There has never been a case where a person was infected by a household member, relative, co-worker, or friend through casual or everyday contact such as sharing eating utensils and bathroom facilities or hugging and kissing. (Most scientists agree that while HIV transmission through deep or prolonged “French” kissing may be possible, it would be extremely unlikely). Here in the U.S., screening the blood supply for HIV has virtually eliminated the risk of infection through blood transfusions. (And you cannot get HIV from giving blood at a blood bank or other established blood collection center.) Sweat, tears, vomit, feces, and urine do contain HIV, but have not been reported to transmit the disease (apart from two cases involving transmission from feces via cut skin). Mosquitoes, fleas, and other insects do not transmit HIV.

How can I avoid acquiring HIV from a contaminated needle?
If you are injecting drugs of any type, including steroids, do not share syringes or other injection equipment with anyone else. (Disinfecting previously used needles and syringes with bleach can reduce the risk of HIV transmission). If you are planning to have any part of your body pierced or to get a tattoo, be sure to see a qualified professional who uses sterile equipment. Detailed HIV prevention information for drug users who continue to inject is available from the CDC’s National Prevention Information Network at 1-800-458-5231 or online.

Malawi – Map
The tourist brochures bill Malawi as ‘the warm heart of Africa,’ and for once the hype is true. Malawi’s scenery is gorgeous and varied and Malawians tend to be extremely friendly toward travelers. It’s a real nature-lover’s destination: lots of national parks and game reserves, mountain hiking and plateau trekking and the massive Lake Malawi, great for diving, boating or lazing about. The country’s reliable transport and compact size make getting about a snap. A broad range of accommodation and activities makes it possible to have a great time whether you’re pinching pennies or blowing the bank.
Full country name: Republic of Malawi
Area: 118,500 sq km (45,747 sq mi)
Population: 11.9 million
Capital city: Lilongwe (pop 260,000)
People: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuko, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European
Languages: English, Chichewa, regional languages
Religion: 55% Protestant, 20% Roman Catholic, 20% Muslim, traditional indigenous beliefs
Government: Multi-party democracy
President: Bingu wa Mutharika

GDP: US$8.9 billion
GDP per head: US$940
Annual growth: 3.2%
Inflation: 83.4%
Major industries: Tea, tobacco, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods, tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, pulses, cattle, goats
Major trading partners: US, South Africa, Germany, Japan, Zimbabwe, UK

(c) Copyright 2002 Lonely Planet Publications. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Friends of Malawi – Friends of Malawi supports economic, social and educational development of the Malawian People. The site details the organization and various information on Malawi and community projects.
Malawi SDNP – The Sustained Development Networking Programme aims to investigate and promote sustained development in Malawi. Includes details of various governmental aspects of the country, such as the constitution, anthem, and elections.
Sandy’s Archives – X Africa – Sandy Dacombe, environmental reporter. Archive of articles on subjects ranging from travels in Africa to its wildlife.
Malawi – Atlapedia Online – Encyclopedic page of information on Malawi – includes brief history, geographical, demographic and political statistics.
A WorldRover Guide: Malawi – Malawi maps, general facts and embassy information.
ABC Country Book of Malawi – General information, statistics, and demographics for Malawi.
Aviation Safety Network: Malawi – Index of Malawian air accidents. Lists Malawi’s single air disaster.
The British Council – Malawi – Aims to provide information sources to Malawians in order to promote development. Includes the library and research resources available.
Malawi – Encarta Encyclopedia Article – Two page article giving reasonable overview of country as a whole.
Southern African Development Community Page for Malawi – Comprehensive profile of the country including in-depth analysis and reports of resources, economy, finance, investment, agriculture, health, industry and infrastructure.
The CIA World Fact Book – Malawi

Voices of Malawi:
The tracks below provide a sample of native Malawian music. The music files will open and play in a new window.

Track 1Track 2Track 3Track 4