Swaziland: Truckers Contribute to the Spread of AIDS

Health surveys for years have noted that itinerant workers such as truck drivers and seasonal agricultural workers are at greater risk for contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS. At a gathering of local leaders in the southern Shiselweni region, the prominent Chief Mzweleni Dlamini recently blamed foreign truck drivers for spreading HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. "They take advantage of the poverty in the country to entice women into sex for money or a meal," he said.

"Truckers do contribute to the spread of the disease, but they are not the principal cause of Swaziland's HIV prevalence rate, which at about 40 percent of the adult population is currently the highest of any country in the world," said AIDS activist Sempiwe Hlope. "But it is unfair to single them out, and inaccurate to say truckers are a principal cause of infection."

Local business leaders criticized the chief's remarks and said that Swaziland should not be singled out in a health crisis that affects all Southern African countries. "I am losing too many drivers [to AIDS] but they are also South Africans, Botswanans, Zimbabweans," said Willie Stuart, president of the trucking firm Speedy Overborder.

In what health officials denounce as a discriminatory policy, Ezulwini, a wealthy suburb of Swaziland's capital Mbabane, banned construction workers' hostels. Single-sex workers' hostels breed STDs, said Gladys Simelane, an HIV/AIDS counselor, because men are forced to live without female companions and often engage the services of prostitutes. But she noted it was unfair to banish workers' hostels. Like other health officials, she believes the solution is to expand HIV/AIDS prevention education, targeting itinerant workers and commercial sex workers.