Swaziland HIV prevalence rate nears 40%

BY Advocate.com Editors

August 27 2003 11:00 PM ET

The HIV prevalence rate among adults in Swaziland has reached nearly 40%, up from 34.2% in January 2002, placing the country second behind only Botswana for the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, according to Swazi prime minister Sibusiso Dlamini. The announcement came in the midst of a furor over a decision by King Mswati III to take a 17-year-old girl as his 11th wife, breaking his own decree that all teenage girls in the nation remain virgins to combat the spread of HIV. Mswati in September 2001 reinstated the "umcwasho" chastity rite by which men are barred from having sex with teenage girls and must pay a fine for breaking the law. Mswati himself already broke the law in 2002 by marrying a teenager as his ninth wife, for which he paid the standard fine of five cows. AIDS workers say the king has set a bad example for the nation's population and that efforts to bar men from having sex with young women will be fruitless because he has shown that he doesn't intend to follow his own law.

Mswati has been a supporter of AIDS issues and organized the Royal Initiative to Combat AIDS, a group that worked with EMI-Capitol Records to create a fund-raising CD, called Songs for Life, which was released in the United States on July 22. The CD, sales of which will support HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 14 sub-Saharan African nations, includes songs by Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Aretha Franklin, Enrique Iglesias, Patti LaBelle, Joan Osborne, Paul Simon, Simply Red, Britney Spears, and many other musicians.

Tags: Health

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