ravages landlocked kingdom
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were already out of date and that its real rate of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probably out of date,” one said.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
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unpublished Ministry of Health report based on a 2001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
a national crisis and there is a prominent
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