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Cash crunch hits Swaziland AIDS patients: MSF

2011-09-09 4
   
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résuméJOHANNESBURG An acute government funding crisis in Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarchy, is disrupting supplies of HIV/AIDS drugs and hampering the fight against the virus in the country with the world's highest infection rate, Medecins Sans Fr
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Cash crunch hits Swaziland AIDS patients: MSF


JOHANNESBURG An acute government funding crisis in Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarchy, is disrupting supplies of HIV/AIDS drugs and hampering the fight against the virus in the country with the world's highest infection rate, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said Friday.

Stocks of testing kits and related chemicals were "almost dry," making it next-to-impossible to chart the progress of the 70,000 patients on therapy or more than 130,000 other people carrying the virus, the aid agency said.

"We're running after the epidemic. We're not managing the epidemic," Aymeric Peguillan, MSF's country head, told Reuters in neighboring South Africa.

With 26 percent of its adult population, or more than 200,000 people infected, Swaziland ranks as the most AIDS-affected country.

King Mswati III's appointed government resolved in March to pay for those patients on therapy but as the full extent of its budget crisis has become clear, that commitment is slipping and the supply of AIDS drugs is being disrupted, Peguillan said.

"There is no real protection. There is no money that is put aside and guaranteed to be used only for supplies of drugs," he said.

The worsening health situation, which also includes shortages of tuberculosis drugs, is likely to fuel public anger at Mswati, who has at least a dozen wives and a personal fortune estimated at $200 million.

Unions and pro-democracy groups have staged a series of marches this week demanding political reform, and Wednesday, several protesters were arrested and beaten as police moved in with tear gas and batons to disperse crowds.

The government has appealed to South Africa for an emergency bail-out, having tried and failed to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pretoria agreed in August to lend $340 million, but the deal has stalled amid signs that Mswati and his inner circle are objecting to South African demands for political and economic reforms.

The fiscal crisis stems from a 2009 recession in South Africa, that caused a sharp drop in regional customs union revenues that have historically accounted for two-thirds of Swazi government revenue.

The budget deficit has ballooned to a Greece-scale 14 percent of GDP, but the government has declined to cut spending on the royal household, military and other areas of what is officially Africa's most bloated civil service.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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