Progress Made in Ending Common Diseases in Swaziland

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MBABANE — Swaziland is a country in Africa, bordering South Africa and Mozambique. It has a population of 1.2 million people. Although categorized as a lower middle income country, 63 percent of Swazis live below the poverty line.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the top five causes of death in Swaziland are HIV (31 percent), lower respiratory infections (8 percent), tuberculosis (7 percent), diarreheal diseases (5 percent), and strokes (4 percent). Out of these five, HIV and tuberculosis are the most common diseases in Swaziland and especially harmful to the Swazi population due to their difficulty to be cured and high prevalence among the population. Swaziland has the highest rate of both HIV and tuberculosis in the world.

Severe diseases such as these have contributed to making the life expectancy just 49 years in Swaziland; one of the lowest in the world.

HIV affects 26 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49. The high rate of HIV among the population and the deaths that have come from it have disrupted the family structure in Swaziland, forcing children to either become vulnerable orphans or heads of their households.

HIV more commonly affects women in Swaziland; the disease infects 31 percent of women compared to 20 percent of men. According to UNICEF, this high percentage of affected women may be due to the culture of gender inequality in Swaziland, which encourages men to have multiple sexual partners and increases the risk of gender-based sexual violence.

The HIV infection can pass on to children of infected mothers; 17,000 children are born HIV positive in Swaziland every year.

Since 80 percent of the population lives in poor rural areas that are far from main road networks, it is challenging to provide treatment for common diseases in Swaziland to much of the population. According to AVERT, people are also unwilling to get tested because of the stigma attached to HIV, and only 50 percent of young people can identify safe-sex methods that will stop them from contracting the disease.

Tuberculosis also severely affects the population, particularly among those who are already HIV positive. People who have HIV in Swaziland are up to 37 times more likely to develop tuberculosis. In fact, 80 percent of tuberculosis patients in Swaziland also have HIV. Out of 100,000 people, 1,380 Swazis develop tuberculosis annually.

Many nonprofits and the Swazi government have taken measures to help decrease these common diseases in Swaziland. The CDC has established HIV testing and counseling centers while also helping those affected by drug-resistant tuberculosis. Doctors Without Borders has opened clinics in rural regions like Shiselweni lacking in appropriate health services.

In Shiselweni, Doctors Without Borders was able to provide treatment to over 17,000 HIV patients and 10,500 tuberculosis patients. The government has also contributed to saving Swazis by increasing access to TB and HIV screenings and treatment facilities.

Due to help both national and international, the death rate of tuberculosis went from 19 percent in 2007 down to 9 percent in 2013. Also, 90 percent of tuberculosis patients also received treatment for HIV.

Though still unusually high, progress is being made on decreasing the prevalence of these common diseases in Swaziland.

Anna Gargiulo

Photo: Flickr

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