Two crises dominate the health sectors of sub-Saharan African countries: those of human resources and of HIV. Nevertheless, there is considerable variation in the extent to which these two phenomena affect sub-Saharan countries, with a few facing extreme levels of both: Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, the Central African Republic and Malawi. This paper reviews the continent-wide situation with respect to this double burden before considering the case of Malawi in more detail. In Malawi, there has been significant concurrent investment in both an Emergency Human Resource Programme and an antiretroviral therapy programme which was treating 60,000 people by the end of 2006. Both areas of synergy and conflict have arisen, as the two programmes have been implemented. These highlight important issues for programme planners and managers to address and emphasize that planning for the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy while simultaneously strengthening health systems and the human resource situation requires prioritization among compelling cases for support, and time (not just resources).