AIDS-blighted Malawi wants to more than double the number of people receiving free anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to 245,000 by 2010, Health Minister Marjorie Ngaunje said on Friday.
"With currently 115,000 people on ARVs, the government aims at increasing this number to 245,000 by the year 2010," Ngaunje told a conference of donors and health experts.
Though it is still a taboo subject in the conservative landlocked country, some 930,000 Malawians are living with HIV or AIDS where the prevalence rate is 14 percent, according to UNAIDS and official figures.
The conference, organised by international medical and humanitarian aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), is to discuss how to deal with acute shortages of health workers.
Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, the main sponsors of the country's economic reforms, are also attending the one-day meeting.
Saying HIV and AIDS were a major public health problem in the southern African nation, Ngaunje said: "approximately 170,000 Malawians are believed to be in urgent need of ARVs today."
She said the scale-up programme had been hit by "a persistent crisis over the past decade which is largely caused by acute shortage of professional health workers in the public health sector."
Ngaunje said the poor southern African country, with funding from the Global Fund against AIDS, malaria and tuberclosis, had recruited 5,000 health surveillance health assistants to increae access to treatment and to compensate for professional health workers.
Malawi, with a population of 12 million, has 150 doctors on the state payroll, according to a recent figure by the health ministry.