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SWAZILAND: HIV threat "exaggerated", says King's brother

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
Anti-AIDS efforts have come up against entrenched beliefs and cultural practices
Manzini, 18 August 2010 (PlusNews) - Remarks disparaging programmes to reduce HIV infections, made by Swaziland's second top-ranking traditional leader, have sparked disbelief and anger among AIDS activists.

The threat of HIV and AIDS was being "exaggerated" by profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies and condom makers, and male circumcision was no more effective at preventing HIV infection than a post-coital bath, said Prince Mangaliso, who chairs the Liqoqo, a powerful body of royal councillors that advises King Mswati.

His remarks were quoted on the front page of The Times of Swaziland newspaper on Tuesday and were condemned by the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), which coordinates the national AIDS effort, and by NGOs like Swaziland Positive Living, an HIV support group.

"[Mangaliso's] comments are setting back our efforts by 15 years. He is in denial, and he is speaking out of ignorance. As a leader he should be setting an example," said an official in charge of the AIDS programme at a large municipality, who asked not to be named out of fear of "provoking powerful people".

However, some health workers viewed the comments by Mangaliso, Mswati's older brother, as providing an insight into the entrenched beliefs that have led many Swazis to resist efforts to reduce the country's high HIV infection rate through sexual behaviour change.

One in four Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with HIV - at 26.1 percent, the world's highest prevalence - in a population of about one million.

"The prince spoke out of anger, but he spoke truthfully of his beliefs, and this is valuable because we can learn from his attitudes," Vusi Dlamini, a public relations officer for the Family Life Association of Swaziland, which promotes reproductive health, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We have meetings with traditionalists all the time; they don't come out and speak [the way Mangaliso did], but you hear it in their tone and their questions - they say, 'Isn't AIDS something they made up to sell condoms?'"

Kathy Cele, a voluntary testing and counselling officer who does AIDS education in deeply conservative rural areas, also welcomed Mangaliso's honesty. "Even if it is misinformed, or prejudice, we can work with that," she said. "We can address those concerns and try to address the misconceptions."

''Mangaliso's comments are setting back our efforts by 15 years. He is in denial, and he is speaking out of ignorance''
Dr Derek von Wissell, NERCHA's director, said the country's first sexual behaviour survey was underway and could reveal the views that have hindered the success of behaviour change efforts.

Not all Swazi traditionalists share Mangaliso's beliefs. Prince Masitsela, the Regional Administrator of the central Manzini Province, who is in his seventies, underwent a circumcision procedure this year that was widely reported in the Swazi press.

He was recently quoted in the local media as saying, "HIV/AIDS is a very serious issue, and people should take it seriously and go for HIV tests and get circumcised."


Theme(s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

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

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