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Wednesday 22 February 2006
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SWAZILAND: More people but still too few testing for HIV

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MBABANE, 20 January (PLUSNEWS) - HIV/AIDS awareness efforts in the kingdom of Swaziland are slowly bearing fruit, with a growing number of people coming forward to be tested for HIV, a new report has found.

According to the AIDS Information and Support Centre (TASC), nearly five times more people tested for HIV in 2004 compared to 2001.

Residents of Swaziland's most populous urban area and biggest commercial town, Manzini, were the most likely to opt for HIV testing and counselling: 40 percent more residents in the Manzini region were tested for the virus than in Hhohho region, where the second highest number of tests were carried out and the capital, Mbabane, is situated.

"Manzini is home to many important social-service and health NGOs, and this has helped raise awareness among local people about things they can use to prolong their lives," said Sempiwe Hlope, director of Swazis for Positive Living (SWAPOL), a support group for HIV-positive living and Swaziland's first urban AIDS centre.

TASC is located in Manzini, 35 km east of Mbabane, as is SWAPOL, the Family Life Association of Swaziland, the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, and the national blood testing and collection centre.

Among callers using a nationwide AIDS information hotline, 48 percent were in the Manzini region and 31 percent in the Hhohho region, while only 8.5 percent were in the largely rural and underdeveloped Lubombo region in the east, an area heavily affected by the pandemic.

Despite the progress made, the report noted that too few people were being retested, ignoring health officials' advice to take a blood test to detect the presence of HIV every six months.

"In a country where over 40 percent of sexually active adults are HIV positive, getting tested should become as routine as going to the dentist on a twice-a-year basis. Unfortunately, what we are finding is that once people have tested and have determined they are HIV negative, they do not come back, and risk the possible trauma that a later test might be positive. It's a form of wishful thinking that once tested negative, people hope they are safe," said Henderson Kunene, a Manzini health volunteer.

Swaziland has the world's highest HIV infection rate, estimated at around 40 percent of adults. "When dealing with HIV and AIDS, one cannot help but lament the rise of Swaziland's HIV infection rate. As a citizen of Swaziland, I feel bad that a country so small should outrun the rest of the world in occupying the top spot as the most infected in the world," said TASC executive director Thandi Nhlengethwa.

Income levels appeared to play a role in who was tested for HIV, with the largest group - 29 percent - being made up of professionals, while 14 percent were labourers, and 15 percent were students.

The TASC survey also found that most people were being tested were in their twenties, and 52 percent were married.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Young heroes website appeals for help for AIDS orphans,  14/Feb/06
Campaign to inform women of their legal rights underway,  27/Jan/06
"Sewage sociology" finds condom use rising,  5/Jan/06
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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