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Mbabane, 16 February, 2005 – The President of the African Development Bank (ADB) Group, Donald Kaberuka, has expressed alarm at the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Swaziland and the inadequate international support in the country’s fight against the disease. Speaking after a visit to the Voluntary Counseling and Treatment (VCT) Centre at the Mbabane Government Hospital, Mr. Kaberuka remarked that "what I have just witnessed at the Centre brings home the magnitude of the pandemic well beyond the statistics. The scale of human suffering calls for a coordinated and urgent response from the international community."
The pandemic is further complicated by other challenges currently facing Swaziland, notably the severe drought which has affected parts of the country, resulting in food shortages and resource constraints. These have exacted a heavy burden on the population and the economy, pushing the country deeper into the crisis zone. "If Swaziland does not receive a more robust and coordinated responses from the donor community, the country’s future could very well be jeopardized," President Kaberuka observed.
In discussing the constraints faced, staff of the VCT emphasized "the urgent need to boost the capacity of the national health system to respond to rising demand for treatment and care."
Swaziland has a population of just over one million. Out of this, estimates put the HIV/AIDS prevalence at over 40 percent, with the highest rate found among the most productive age group in the population – 20 to 35 years. In addition, the number of aids orphans and vulnerable children in the country are estimated at over 100,000. King Mswati III has, since 1999, declared HIV/AIDS a national emergency, and initiated action to address the crisis. Similarly, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also declared Swaziland a priority country for HIV/AIDS intervention.
Swaziland alone lacks sufficient capacity and resources to effectively stem the spread of the disease and global responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic remain insufficient. This is partly due to the fact that the country is classified as a middle income country, limiting its eligibility for concessional resources. With 66 percent of the population living below the poverty line and current life expectancy reduced to 38 years from over 69 in 1990, the crisis in Swaziland deserves special consideration for a significant increase in donor assistance to reverse this trend.
Mr. Kaberuka strongly urged the government to continue to demonstrate commitment and effective leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He also appealed to the international community to support efforts to stem the attrition of trained medical personnel who tend to move on to other countries after a few years of service in the country. The African Development Bank, which has already provided support on food shortages, will examine the best way to work with the government and development partners to respond to the crisis.