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About 42% of Pregnant Women in Swaziland Are Living With HIV, Report Says

February 23, 2009

About 42% of pregnant women in Swaziland are HIV-positive, an increase of 3% since last year, according to a government report that was released on Friday, the AP/ reports. According to the report, the increase likely is because more women's lives are being prolonged through improved access to antiretroviral drugs. About 185,000 people in Swaziland -- which has a population of one million and the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate worldwide -- are living with HIV. About 30,000 people have access to antiretrovirals in the country, and average life expectancy is 37 years.

Health Minister Benedict Xaba said that he is disappointed about the increase, which he said indicates that prevention efforts are not effective. "There is therefore a need to accelerate HIV prevention efforts especially those targeted at youth," he said. The country also is promoting male circumcision, although there are concerns that the procedure might make men complacent about other HIV prevention measures, the AP/ reports.

According to the AP/, although King Mswati III is "widely revered," many HIV/AIDS advocates "blame" him for "doing little to spread prevention message and promote condom usage and HIV testing." In addition, they say that he "sets a bad example by having 13 wives," the AP/ reports. "The nation, especially polygamous men, look up to the monarch," Sphiwe Hlophe, who runs Swaziland for Positive Living, said. Mswati received criticism last year for hosting celebrations to mark the country's 40th anniversary of independence from Britain, as well as his birthday, at a "time when the health sector is crumbling under the burden of AIDS," according to the AP/ (Mthethwa, AP/, 2/20).

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