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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 

 


Aids ravages landlocked kingdom

Date:     14 Jan 2003

The landlocked African kingdom of Swaziland is believed to have the world’s highest rate of HIV, with almost four out of 10 adults infected with the virus which causes Aids.

In a New Year’s address published last week, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini said the official rate of infection had risen to 38,6% from 34,2% in January 2002.

The new figure is just less than Botswana’s rate, 38,8%, which is still officially the world’s worst.

But health officials said that Swaziland’s figures were already out of date and that its real rate of infection was even worse.

“The report is months old, and the figures are probably out of date,” one said.

Sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, the impoverished kingdom is also reeling from a food shortage and a constitutional crisis that promises a difficult year ahead for the continent’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

Before HIV became so widespread Swaziland’s population in 2000 was projected to be 1,2-million.

 


Today it is estimated to be 970 000, and 20 000 people develop full-blown Aids each year after a gestation period of seven to 10 years.

The latest statistics are an extrapolation of an unpublished Ministry of Health report based on a 2001 survey of HIV-positive pregnant women and women giving birth at government hospitals.

The king has declared Aids a national crisis and there is a prominent Aids awareness campaign, but the authorities have been accused of lacking the will to confront the scale of the disaster.

The death of farm labourers and breadwinners has exacerbated the food shortage, which threatens a quarter of the population.

The prime minister has promised that drugs which can reduce the transmission of the virus from mothers to newborn babies will be distributed at government hospitals from next month.

Critics blamed the patriarchal society and feudal leadership for denying women the right to say no to sex, and the continued stigma attached to the disease ,which discourages people from being tested.

 


Last month a senior adviser to the king, Senator Walter Bennett, told a rally in the commercial capital, Manzini, that the government might in future stop “wasting” medical support to HIV/Aids patients because they contracted the disease by choice.

A coalition of civil groups and aid agencies has mobilised itself to tackle the crisis but Swaziland’s leadership has been distracted by controversy about the king’s attempt to buy a $45-million private jet and his selection of an 18-year-old schoolgirl to be his 10th wife.Yet Mswati (34), known as the Ngonyama (lion), continues to be adored by many of his subjects, even after a constitutional crisis prompted the resignation of all six judges on Swaziland’s appeal court. — © Guardian Newspapers 2003