By Sarah Tegenfeldt
In 2011, the small, monarchical, landlocked country of Swaziland finally began to feel the effects of the economic recession that took hold of the rest of Southern Africa in 2009 . Confirmation of this came when the African Economic Outlook reported a sharp decline in Swaziland’s real GDP growth, estimating it at negative 0.4 percent. South Africa, which completely surrounds Swaziland, is extremely important to the Swazi economy, supplying 90 percent of its imports and absorbing around 60 percent of its exports. As a result, Swaziland relied heavily on customs duties tendered by the South African Customs Union (SACU). After severe decreases in receipts from the SACU, the government was forced to cut spending, especially in the form of wages. This lead to the slowest GDP growth rate of any African country, a staggering 0.3 percent according to the CIA. Even before this, Swaziland was already facing serious hardships. The unemployment rate reported in 2010 by African Economic Outlook, just before the effects of the recession landed, was already at 29 percent, with over 60 percent of the population living in poverty.
However, poverty and unemployment were always only one facet of the situation in Swaziland. This small country retains the highest per capita rate of HIV/AIDS, infecting one in four of its citizens. Although relief organizations have made serious efforts to counteract the annual new infection rate, it remained at 2.9 percent before the economic downturn.
Once recession hit, all of the previous problems facing Swaziland were exacerbated and compounded. Financial decline in Swaziland had its greatest effect on those aged 15-24, raising this group’s unemployment rate to an unprecedented 50 percent, as stated by African Economic Outlook. Without any substantial growth in the job sector over the last year, many people have been forced to find work however they can. Many of the 50 percent of the country’s youth who are unemployed have been forced to turn to prostitution. One woman interviewed by CNN told reporters that it was her very last resort. “Here in Swaziland there are no jobs… I have no choice to be a sex worker whether I like it or not.” This woman is not only a sex worker but is also one of the 26 percent of the country’s population infected with HIV.
Relief organizations, once prevalent in Swaziland, have also faced serious hardship in the wake of the economic recession. In the same article, CNN stated that this has severely limited the availability of both condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and anti retroviral medication for those already infected. Although the woman interviewed says she never has sex with a customer without a condom, there is still substantial evidence of far less access to protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
The combination of a decrease in condom use and an increase in prostitution can only lead to an escalation in the number of those infected with HIV. Without anti retroviral medication, those already infected with HIV will have a much greater chance of advancing to AIDS and suffering even more as a result. It took relief organizations years to get the spiraling epidemic under control in Swaziland and lower the rate of new infection annually to 2.9 percent. Without all these efforts, HIV infection rates will once again rise. It is true that the economy of Swaziland is suffering. Yet with high rates of poverty, unemployment and HIV infection, it is apparent that the people are suffering tremendously as well. The country’s current economic policies must be seriously reformed if Swaziland is to turn its situation around and reverse the effects had upon their already high HIV infection rates.
Image by TheLizardQueen