- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

AIDS in Swaziland

The deadly AIDS virus has infected so many people in Swaziland that almost every family in the tiny African kingdom is affected, said Swazi Ambassador Ephraim M. Hlophe.

On a continent ravaged by HIV and AIDS, Swaziland’s 1.1 million subjects are especially vulnerable because of its poverty and size and by the general ignorance of the disease among the people. More than 33 percent of the population is infected with HIV.

The crisis is so severe that King Mswati III has adopted the radical approach pioneered by Uganda, which promoted abstinence, marital fidelity and condom use, Mr. Hlophe said at an AIDS seminar this week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“The epidemic of HIV/AIDS is one of the most serious issues we have faced in the history of the kingdom of Swaziland,” he said. “The disease affects nearly every family in the country and has profound ramifications for economic growth, political stability and social cohesion.”

Mr. Hlophe explained that the king was alarmed by the rise in infections.

“His Majesty King Mswati III has recognized the depth of the problem and is looking to other countries, such as Uganda, for models of combating HIV/AIDS,” the ambassador said. “The notion of ‘abstain, be faithful and use condoms’ makes eminent sense, and we are applying it as a policy with consistency.”

Mr. Hlophe said more Swazis are being tested for HIV and are receiving medicine from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“But as a small kingdom, an aggressive approach that encompasses all methods of prevention and treatment will be crucial to [the king’s] efforts to combat the epidemic,” he said.

Former Ugandan Ambassador Edith Ssempala explained that Africans have been reluctant to discuss sex publicly and are ignorant about how HIV is spread. Uganda adopted a public education program that has cut the rate of infection from a high of 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001, according to international AIDS charity Avert.

Visa action

A Czech soldier who fought in Iraq applied for a U.S. visa to visit some of the American friends he made while serving in combat with them. His application was denied, however, because his passport showed he had visited Iraq.

When Sen. George V. Voinovich heard of that story and similar ones from citizens who support the U.S.-led war on terrorism, he decided to fix the law that exempts citizens of only 27 countries from having to apply for visas before traveling to the United States.

“There are many countries helping us thwart terrorism around the world, and they should be rewarded for their continued cooperation,” the Ohio Republican said as he introduced the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2006.

The bill gives the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the State Department, the authority to add countries to the Visa Waiver Program. Many foreign ambassadors in Washington have been lobbying for an expansion of the program.

President Bush has said the program should include 13 more countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and South Korea.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington next week include:

Monday

• Economics Minister Doris Leuthard of Switzerland, who meets with U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and members of Congress.

Wednesday

• Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli of Georgia, who addresses Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

• Fanny Palli-Petralia, Greece’s tourism minister, who addresses the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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