Friday, August 20, 2010
HIV and the People of Swaziland
This nation of just over 1.2 million is bordered on the South, North and West by South Africa and to the East, Mozambique. It has two capitals Mbabane (administrative ) and Lobamba (legislative and royal). Most Swazis speak siSwazi although English is spoken as a second language by many people in the country. It was colonised by the British and granted independence in 1968. The head of state is currently Mswati III. He elects a number of representative in both chambers of Parliament and the Prime Minister. Over 90% of Swazis are of some Christian denomination.
Swaziland is however not without its share of problems. At 26%, its HIV rate amongst adults is the worst in the world. In 2002, a total of 61% of all deaths in the country were caused by HIV. Life expectancy in the nation has fallen from 61 years in 2000 to 32 years in 2009. It is now the worst in the world and 6 years lower than the second worst, Angola. 42.6% of pregnant women in Swaziland are currently infected with HIV.
The crisis was first officially recognised by the administration in the country in 2004. It has also been gripped by a TB crisis with a mortality rate of 18%. 83% of TB sufferers are co-infected with HIV. The epidemic of HIV is killing 2% of the population every year. The UN has stated that if the problem continues unabated then it will threaten "the longer term existence of Swaziland as a country."
So against this backdrop of devastation you would presume that the Government and monarchy in Swaziland would be trying to do anything in its power to help control the epidemic. However, the policies of king Mswati leave something to be desired. He practices polygamy, which is legal in Swaziland and also has stated all women under 50 are banned from sex. IN 200 he stated all HIV infected people should be "sterilized or branded". He has also enforced unchwasho for a number of years whereby women over nineteen engaging in sexual relations are fined one animal.
This HIV ignorance is something which appears to be transferring to some of his children. Today one of his sons said the epidemic is being exaggerated by pharmaceutical companies for the benefit of their bank balances. He also attacked the idea of circumcision as a preventative measure against the contraction of AIDS. He said it was no more useful than bathing after intercourse.His draconian stance has been attacked by the group Swaziland for Positive Living citing studies in Uganda and Kenya stating the risk of catching the disease is reduced by 60% in circumcised males.