HIV-Positive Women in Swaziland Protest Royal Family’s Use of Funds
More than 1,500 mostly HIV-positive women on Thursday protested against a foreign shopping trip taken by eight of King Mswati's 13 wives in what appeared to be the first demonstration in the country by HIV-positive people questioning how money should be spent, AFP/Khaleej Times reports. Swaziland, which has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of close to 40%, is facing shortages of medicines, including antiretroviral drugs. The wives and their children and staff left Swaziland last week to shop for celebrations to mark Mswati's birthday and the country's independence from Great Britain in 1968 (AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/21).
The protest was organized by Positive Living, a nongovernmental organization that aims to help women living with HIV. Participants chanted slogans such as, "We need to keep that money for" antiretrovirals, and, "We can't afford a shopping trip when a quarter of the nation lives on food aid" (BBC News, 8/21). Siphiwe Hlophe, a spokesperson for the Women's Coalition of Swaziland and Positive Living, said, "With this march, we want to drive home the point that we people living with HIV are not happy with the way our money is being used." According to AFP/Khaleej Times, per capita income in Swaziland is about $1,000 -- the lowest in Southern Africa.
Government spokesperson Percy Simelane said, "Poverty has been with us for many years. We cannot then sit by the roadside and weep just because the country is faced with poverty." He added that Swaziland has "made great strides as a country that gives us pleasure in celebrating the 40 years of independence and the king's birthday" (AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/21).