21 July 2011
Swaziland AIDS activists march for drugs
MBABANE — About 100 Swazi AIDS activists yesterday (21 July 2011) marched to the finance ministry to demand that the kingdom not allow a crippling financial crisis to interrupt the supply of life-saving drugs.
The AIDS activists were joined by labour leaders and representatives of the banned Pudemo opposition party, who rallied behind the call to salvage the country's floundering health system.
"We are seeing the health sector crumbling," said Vusi Nxumalo of the Swaziland's National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.
"There is a problem with procurement, supply and service delivery," said Nxumalo, who organised the march organisers.
Swaziland has the world's highest HIV infection rate, with one in four adults carrying the virus.
According to Nxumalo, about 64,000 people depend on state-issued drugs.
Donors finance the purchase of much of Swaziland's supply of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs used to battle AIDS, but the government is struggling to keep its health services open.
Last year Swaziland saw a 60 percent drop in revenues from a regional customs union, the government's main source of income.
A new formula in how revenues are distributed saw Swaziland's share slashed, a change the kingdom failed to budget for.
The tiny kingdom, Africa's last absolute monarchy, has drained its foreign reserves to pay salaries, but can't afford fuel for government vehicles to distribute supplies or provide social services.
"People shouldn't be afraid. I know when you say you are broke, people think you won't help," said Health Minister Benedict Xaba.
"Government is doing its best to make sure that ARVs are available. We won't be scaling down," he told AFP.
Even small protests were once rare in Swaziland, but since April anger at the financial crisis has sparked a series of demonstrations against the rule of King Mswati III, who is criticised for his lavish lifestyle in one of the world's poorest countries.
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