MBABANE - James T. Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, commended the Government of Swaziland for its commitment to tackle HIV/AIDS rates and highlighted the need to include broader support for orphans, particularly those affected by the virus.
"The Government has made important strides in beginning to confront the HIV epidemic," Morris said. "But more has to be done to ensure children, and particularly children who have become orphaned because of the virus, have equal access to all services such as education, sanitation, safe water and healthcare."
Morris, who is accompanied by mission members from eight UN agencies, is reviewing how the UN system and the international community can more effectively assist Swaziland's most vulnerable people in battling the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, food insecurity, and the weakened capacity for human resources.
Swaziland has been wracked by a confluence of deepening poverty, HIV/AIDS, and regular disruptions to food security caused by drought and land degradation.
During his visit, Morris and the mission met with His Majesty King Mswati III who thanked the United Nations for its continued support to Swaziland. The mission welcomed the King's clear and unwavering commitment to supporting humanitarian operations.
Morris and the mission also met with the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet appointed eight months ago. They expressed their determination to help lead the country away from the brink of the abyss, which one of the world's highest rates of HIV prevalence represents.
Since 1992, HIV prevalence among women attending antenatal care services has risen from 3.6 percent to 38.6 percent today. The full impact of the epidemic is now being felt with health service institutions and other public services being overburdened as a result. An estimated 20,000 people require care, but there are only 1,500 hospital beds available -about half of admissions are HIV/AIDS related.
"When these fundamental services are not able to meet demand, then Government, non-government organizations, and the international community need to step in to make sure the capacity to help these kids exists," Morris said. "Swaziland can not afford to start losing a generation because of inadequate action."
The country is currently heading into its fourth year of food shortages and because about two-thirds of the population earns less than US$1 a day, many people lack access to adequate food supplies. The World Food Programme expects to assist up to 220,000 people with targeted food aid over the next year.
It is estimated that about 60,000 children have already been orphaned by the virus in Swaziland and that unless concerted programming is implemented that address all facets of need, the number of orphans could double to 120,000 by 2010.
In the last year, Swaziland has channeled millions of dollars to assist orphans, the education system, a rollout of anti-retroviral drugs, and feeding programmes throughout the country.
Morris arrived in Swaziland on Friday morning from Mozambique. He has already visited Malawi and will next go to Namibia as part of his third mission to southern Africa.
Morris was appointed UN Special Envoy in July 2002, four months after he joined the UN World Food Programme as Executive Director. Mission members include representatives from FAO, OCHA, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, WFP, and WHO.
NOTE FOR THE MEDIA:
• Follow the Special Envoy's mission on the web; go to www.wfp.org
Jabu Matsabula in Mbabane
(traveling with the S. Envoy)