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International News

Swaziland Acknowledges AIDS Infections Spiraling

January 3, 2003

Swaziland, a tiny African kingdom, has acknowledged for the first time that it has one of the highest AIDS rates in the world. Almost 40 percent of Swazi adults are HIV-infected. In a New Year's address printed in newspapers, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini said the country's official AIDS prevalence rate had risen to 38.6 percent from 34.2 percent in January 2002. "It is enormously disappointing that the education and prevention initiatives of the past year have had so little effect," Dlamini said.

Swazi officials, traditionally circumspect about the AIDS crisis, have conceded that the actual prevalence rate is probably higher than the government estimates. The country is also struggling with a food shortage, due in part to AIDS deaths cutting into the agricultural workforce. The deaths have worsened a crisis brought on by last year's crop failures. For the first time, Dlamini said starvation was occurring in parts of the country. Almost a quarter of Swaziland's nearly one million people are hungry.

The prime minister promised that antiretroviral drugs would be available next month at government hospitals to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Activists said they would await signs of concrete action from the government before declaring that Swaziland had turned a corner in its fight against the disease.

Before the onset of the epidemic, Swaziland's population was projected to reach 1.2 million in 2000. Today's population is about 970,000, with 20,000 HIV-positive Swazis developing AIDS each year. A UNICEF report estimates that by 2010, approximately 15 percent of Swaziland's population will be underage AIDS orphans.

Swaziland ranks behind Botswana for the highest AIDS prevalence rate in the world. UN estimates, released in early 2002, said Botswana had a 38.8 percent rate, Zimbabwe had a 33.7 percent rate and Lesotho had a rate of 31 percent.

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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