HIV/AIDS Advocates in Swaziland Call for Expansion of Antiretroviral Program, Warn of Limited Drug Access Among Women
Some HIV/AIDS advocates are calling on Swaziland to expand and strengthen its national antiretroviral program, IRIN News reports. The advocates also say that the country faces serious challenges, particularly in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS among women.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare last week at a conference in Manzini, Swaziland, said that about 15,000 people receive antiretroviral access through the government-sponsored treatment program and that the number is expected to double by the end of the year. However, advocates said the drugs are reaching only a fraction of those in need and targets should be dramatically increased, IRIN News reports. According to IRIN News, the Swazi government has allotted 43 million rand, or $6.25 million, to the national antiretroviral program. Thembi Nkambule, national coordinator for the Swaziland National Network of People Living With HIV and AIDS, said, "There is a need to make antiretrovirals more available to children and to develop a national antiretroviral literacy curriculum and an urgent need to scale up community awareness around the accessibility" of the drugs.
Officials at the conference also discussed ensuring the availability and affordability of drug supplies, as well as the finalization of national nutritional guidelines for people living with HIV/AIDS, IRIN News reports. According to Albertina Nyatsi, head of the Manzini-based Positive Women Together, uncertainty over whether people are adhering to their treatment regimens has been an obstacle to the success of the program. She added that "transportation is a significant hindering factor for access" to treatment.
A report compiled by the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS, which was based on a similar conference held in Swaziland in May, said that some church leaders and traditional medicine practitioners are giving parishioners and clients inaccurate information about HIV/AIDS. "Some traditional healers are making concoctions that are mixed with [antiretrovirals], and these remedies are taken by people living with HIV/AIDS, heightening the risk of drug resistance and reversal of progress gained" by the national program, the report said.
The NERCHA report, distributed at the Manzini conference, also said that hospital and health clinic nurses who provide prenatal care are advising some HIV-positive women against having children or to have an abortion if they are pregnant and have significantly low CD4+ T cell counts, IRIN News reports. Nyatsi said that information on antiretrovirals "still remains inaccessible for many Swazi women living positively," adding, "Most information is generalized and needs to be tailored for women-specific needs." She also said that in addition to "living with the stigma of being HIV-positive, most women are restricted by family members and husbands from going on [antiretrovirals] because of the expense," Nyatsi said. The United Nations estimates that 33.4% of Swazis between ages 15 and 49 are HIV-positive (IRIN News, 7/19).