Too poor to afford food, the patients have resorted to eating dung to fill their stomachs before they can take life-saving Anti Retroviral (ARV) drugs.
ARV drugs don’t work on an empty stomach, so patients mix the dung with water to help them digest it.
Aid workers are shocked to see how people have been forced to live, said
Siyabonga Sithole, from the Swaziland Network of People Living with HIV and Aids.
“HIV patients are told their drugs will not work unless they have something in their stomachs – but many people are suffering an economic crisis, which means they are unable to buy food,” he told the Swazi Observer newspaper.
“I first saw two months ago residents drying cow dung and mixing it with water to eat before they take their pills. I was told three or four people were doing this but since then the number has grown. This is very disturbing and it’s an indication of how bad the situation has become,”
Eating cow manure is most common in the eastern Lubombo region, which has suffered a long stretch without rain, and where up to half of the population is HIV positive.
Hundreds of people are protesting in the southern African country, claiming that poor management by sub-Saharan Africa’s sole absolute monarch has caused a shortage of essential medical supplies and a failing economy.
Swaziland is one of the world’s HIV capitals – a quarter of adults among its 1.2million people are HIV positive. The virus has killed many workers and farmers and has created thousands of orphans. Many have been given antiretroviral drugs – but these could soon run out as the economy collapses. Aids groups have already warned that the country faces a shortage of anti-retroviral drugs.
About 70 per cent of people in Swaziland are so poor they live in abject poverty, earning less than £1.20 a day. At least one third of the one million population get some sort of food aid each year.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, whose government has admitted it is running out of cash. But in 2009, Forbes magazine reported King Mswati III had a personal fortune of £122m. He has 13 wives, and each has a palace paid for by the Swazi people.