Swaziland: New Infections Halved in Five Years as HIV Treatment Scales Up

For a country that has borne the greatest brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the latest news from Swaziland is encouraging and most welcome. In a new study presented at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science, it was revealed that between 2011 and 2016, the country had a decrease in new HIV infections of about 46%.

To understand the significance, of the study, you need to understand the context of the HIV/AIDS situation in the southern African country. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV prevalence and HIV incidence rates in the world. In 2011, data from the Swaziland government indicated that 31% of the adults between the age of 18 and 49 years old were infected with HIV. For a country of just 1.2 million people, this translated to one in every three adults being infected with HIV. The latest data shows a great decline in the figures after five years.

According to information from a survey of 10, 934 people aged 15 years and above, the percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS was 27%. The results showed the current HIV infection rate among adults aged 18-49 years is at 1.39%. This is a massive 44% drop from the figure recorded in 2011 when the HIV infection rate was at 2.58%. The drop in HIV infections was much higher in men than women though all genders recorded significant drops in HIV incidence rates from 2011. In men, the current incidence rate is at 0.86% which is a massive 53% drop in the rates in 2011. In women, the current infection rates are at 1.95%, a 38% drop from the 2011 figures.

The survey also indicated several other positives in other areas. First, there was a huge increase in the number of HIV patients aged between 18 and 49 who had achieved suppression of the viral load. 71.3% of the adult population infected with HIV had suppressed the virus compared to 34.8% in 2011. Achieving the viral load suppression means the virus has been contained to a point it can no longer replicate and make the patient ill. This is achieved through the taking of ART drugs. It showed the success achieved by the government program supported by other stakeholders to expand awareness, prevention and treatment programs in the country.

Further success of the program captured by the study showed that over 90% of the HIV infected women who were pregnant received drugs which prevented transmission of the virus to the babies. Babies were now born without the virus in healthy conditions due to the measures set to curb the spread of the virus.This, in turn, saw fewer than 1000 babies born with HIV in 2016. The other success was the increase in the number of HIV tests done in the country which again almost doubled up. In 2016, there were 367,000 HIV tests done up from 176, 000 tests done in 2011.

The 2016 study was the second study of its kind, a Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Survey. It was conducted between August 2016 and March 2017. Its results have shown great promise in the government’s efforts and the nation is looking towards further scale up to achieve an AIDS free world.


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