"Whatever way we measure it, we will still arrive at figures indicating
that the pandemic is highly prevalent," said Dr Derek von Wissell, Director
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
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.