UNAIDS chief begins visit to Southern Africa with stop in Swaziland


17 February - The head of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has called for a greater national response to the disease in Swaziland, which has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, with more than one in every four people infected.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé has begun his visit to Southern Africa with a two-day stop in Swaziland to see first-hand the progress and challenges in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in a country where the infection rate is 26 per cent.

The wider region is home to two thirds of the world's HIV-positive population.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) set a target last year of halving new infections in the region by 2010. To meet this goal, the number of projected infections would have to fall from 1.15 million to about 575,000.

Mr. Sidibé plans to see progress made, and explore options for joint UN action to intensify efforts to reduce new HIV infections.

While in Swaziland, Mr. Sidibé met with Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamiani and the country's health and finance ministers, who he urged to continue providing funding to AIDS programmes.

UNAIDS reports that unless efforts are stepped up, three in every 100 people will be infected with HIV every year in Swaziland. In the 25-to-29 age group, one in two women are living with HIV, and so are nearly one in two men aged between 35 and 39.

Mr. Sidibé also commended the King and the Queen Mother for their continued support of the HIV/AIDS effort.

“There is also tangible evidence of progress in the HIV response in Swaziland,” Mr. Sidibé told King Mswati III. “This is particularly evident in the increase of numbers of people, notably pregnant women, who have access to treatment. Almost three out of four pregnant HIV positive women receive antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmitting the virus to their children. This is a significant achievement in Swaziland's response to HIV.”

Mr. Sidibé concluded his visit by meeting with civil society organisations, including representatives of groups of people living with HIV, women and youth organisations. He urged them to continue working closely with the Government to help mobilize resources and achieve further successes in the response to HIV.

Mr. Sidibé heads next to Botswana and South Africa.