Securing funding for Swaziland’s health services must be a priority despite financial crisis

The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned about the implications of the current economic crisis in Swaziland on people living with HIV/AIDS. To pre-empt stock ruptures, which are already affecting patients, MSF has supplied a contingency stock of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that will serve some 18,000 AIDS patients in its project areas for at least one month. This stock will only cover the needs of a fraction of the 70,000 patients currently on ARV treatment in Swaziland, and will not be sufficient to address the needs of those still waiting to be enrolled.

MSF calls on the government of Swaziland and the Ministry of Health to act decisively in ensuring proper management and supply of ARV drugs to the Swazi health facilities and ensure that funds are secured and reserved for supplies of ARV drugs, for laboratories, and for drugs for treating opportunistic infections.

“For all people currently on antiretroviral treatment, and for those eligible to get started on antiretroviral drugs, an uninterrupted supply of medication is crucial to the success of their treatment and thus to their survival,” says Aymeric PÉGUILLAN, head of mission for MSF in Swaziland.

Depending on a patient’s health status and the length of the treatment interruption, ARV ruptures can lead to the development of drug resistance, to a rapid decline in a patient’s health and even to death. In addition to the HIV patients who are receiving treatment, MSF is worried that those not yet on ARV drugs may also be affected by the funding gap in the general health system.

“The threat to the capacity for HIV testing and counselling is real, and laboratory services are now becoming affected, as the reagents needed for tests are in extremely short supply at the moment,” says Péguillan.

MSF, together with the Ministry of Health of Swaziland, has been providing HIV and TB care to patients in Shiselweni region since late 2007, and to patients in Manzini region since mid-2010. By the end of June 2011, out of almost 18,000 HIV-positive people in need of treatment in Shiselweni region*, 13,083 patients were on antiretroviral treatment, including more than 5,000 managed at clinic level. There are currently 4,279 patients on antiretroviral treatment in the Mankayane area, and 305 at the Matsapha industrial site clinic, both situated in Manzini region.

* Swaziland HIV estimates and projections report UNAIDS July 2010