SWAZILAND: New HIV figures reveal extent of epidemic

Photo: James Hall/IRIN
Swaziland's HIV/AIDS epidemic has left countless children orphaned and vulnerable.
Mbabane, 29 June 2007 (PlusNews) - Swaziland's first Demographic Health Survey has found that 26 percent of sexually active Swazis are infected with HIV. The last prevalence survey, based on tests of pregnant women at antenatal clinics, had found a 38.6 percent HIV infection rate.

The new figure was derived from a house-to-house survey by the Central Statistics Office for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Men and women living at selected households were questioned, and their blood taken for anonymous testing.

"Whatever way we measure it, we will still arrive at figures indicating that the pandemic is highly prevalent," said Dr Derek von Wissell, Director of the National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).

The new figure of 26 percent still gives the small landlocked country the world's highest HIV prevalence rate; in Botswana an estimated 24 percent of people aged 15 to 49 are infected, and in Lesotho 23 percent.

High levels of awareness about HIV and AIDS appear to have had little impact on preventing new infections: 99 percent of survey participants said they knew about the disease, but nearly half admitted having multiple sex partners and having sex without condoms.

Men were 23 percent more likely than women to have had more than one sex partner in the past year, but more women than men had had sex before the age of 24.

Only 12 percent of Swazi families reported using condoms as a means of family planning, while 17 percent of women used contraceptive injections and 10 percent used contraceptive pills.

Women with high-school or tertiary education were much more likely to use some form of family planning, and to give birth in a hospital where prevention of mother-to-child transmission services were available; only 55 percent of women with lower levels of education had given birth in a hospital.

UN Development Programme Representative Niel Boyer told a press conference held by the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development that the country's most productive age groups were those worst affected by the epidemic.

Von Wissell emphasised that the 26 percent figure only accounted for the sexually active population. "We can still reduce that figure," he said. "As long as behaviour changes, we can do it."

The survey also found that Swaziland's population had dropped from 1.2 million to 1.1 million, with an average life expectancy of just 30 years; 85 out of every 1,000 Swazi children now die during their first year of life, and 120 before they reach the age of five.

Poverty and hunger have contributed to the high infant mortality, and in 24 percent of the households surveyed children displayed signs of stunted growth due to malnutrition.

AIDS has severely affected the country's food security by decimating the ranks of agricultural workers, especially adult male heads of small subsistence farms.

The heads of UN agencies stationed in Swaziland will convene next week to develop strategies for combating the health crisis that is increasingly draining the country's resources.


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

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

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