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Swaziland’s Aids organisations in free fall

Aids organisations in the country with the world’s highest HIV rate are struggling to survive.

The economic crisis has left several groups that help people affected by Aids in Swaziland on the brink of closure.

Now the south African country’s oldest and also one of the biggest Aids support providers, whose programmes reach six out of 10 Swazis in need of such services, is winding down.

"We have laid off our entire permanent staff of 11 people and we are on the verge of closing down," said Vusi Matsebula from Swaziland Aids Support Organisation (SASO).

Aids has devastated Swaziland, where one in four adults is living with HIV. And since the first cases of Aids were reported in the country in 1986, the virus has spread rapidly, giving Swaziland the highest HIV rate in the world, according to figures from Aids charity, Avert. Women have been particularly hard hit, while Aids orphans and vulnerable children make up about 15 per cent of the population.

Since it started in the 90s, SASO has helped about 600,000 people. But now it hasn’t enough money to pay for bills, rent or staff.  It may now have to deregister as an organisation."We can no longer maintain our two cars, and cannot do what we are mandated to do - go out into Swaziland and guide other support groups," Matsebula told United Nations news service, IRIN.

People who have helped fund SASO in the past including Swaziland’s government, have had to cut back or stop their funding entirely after the global recession and a local government financial crisis.

But SASO isn’t Swaziland’s only Aids organisation in trouble. Last week, the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (SWANNEPHA), which works with SASO, revealed that it too was about to close, unless it can find new donors.

SWANNEPHA is paid for by the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, through Swaziland’s National Emergency Response Council on HIV and Aids which has cut its budget.

"We and SWANNEPHA tried to look into new funding opportunities but it is hard at this time," Matsebula said.

"We are also facing financial problems; we have also had to retrench valuable staff members who are required to carry out programmes," said Siphiwe Hlope, from Swaziland Positive Living, which helps HIV-positive women and their dependants.

While the Aids toll in Swaziland is levelling off, many Swazis live in extreme poverty and food shortages are widespread. But experts fear that without organisations such as SASO, this trend might go into reverse.

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