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Swaziland, World's Highest Prevalence Of Aids

UN Envoy Pleads For Help For Swaziland, World's Highest Prevalence Of Aids

Swaziland, with the highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, is undergoing socially wrenching changes, with some heads of families now as young as 8 and the number of orphans likely to rise to 10 or 15 per cent of the population by 2010, the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa said today.

"HIV/AIDS has reached into the viscera of Swaziland and is tearing it apart," Special Envoy Stephen Lewis told journalists after a visit earlier in the month to the southern African country.

"The rise and sweep of the virus has been inexorable, and thus far, irreversible. The HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal care centres in 1992 was 3.9 per cent, in 1994 it was 16.1 per cent; in 1996, 26 per cent; in 1998, 31.6 per cent; in 2000, 34.2 per cent; in 2002, 38.6 per cent. By my calculations, that's a jump of almost 900 per cent over the course of a decade."

Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council in HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) is "extraordinarily impressive, well-led and single-minded," he said. More gratifying, NERCHA has devised a computer programme tracking patients, drugs and side effects that is totally confidential, "a brilliant technology that can be emulated by other countries."

NERCHA has also requested funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to pay 10,000 women $40 a month each to become surrogate mothers for some of the orphans, Mr. Lewis said.

Meanwhile, between a four-year drought and the AIDS illnesses and deaths of the predominantly female agricultural force, "the fields are shrivelling from neglect," he said. "You don't eat if you can't plant." Many people depended on the UN's World Food Programme ( http://www.wfp.org/index.asp?section=2 WFP) to get enough food to survive, he said.

Already 10 per cent of Swazi households are "sibling families," and one cabinet minister, talking about the explosion that had engulfed his country, said children of the age of 8 were heading families.

"Of course, that's not a family," he said. "It's a brutal rupture of the family constellation, where every child is vulnerable and at risk and no child has a childhood."

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