Swazi life expectancy halved by AIDS, TB: health charity

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Twin epidemics of AIDS and tuberculosis are ravaging Swaziland, helping to halve life expectancy to 31 years, Medecins Sans Frontieres said Thursday, warning of a health emergency.

"The co-epidemic has contributed substantially to a halving of life expectancy within two decades -- from 60 years in the 1990s to 31 in 2007," said the Geneva-headquartered medical charity.

Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world at 26.1 percent, it said, adding more than 80 percent of people suffering from tuberculosis were also infected with HIV.

It was also struggling with a growing number of cases of multiresistant tuberculosis, a particularly dangerous form of the disease which makes up 7.7 percent of all new cases in 2009 and 2010, the charity said.

"In a context where the HIV/TB co-epidemic threatens to wipe out generations of Swazis, translating political commitment into further practical action is more urgent than ever," it warned.

"People are dying in large numbers, and tuberculosis is currently the main cause of mortality among adults," said Aymeric Peguillan, MSF's head of mission in Swaziland.

"As a result, many children are being made orphans and the adult workforce is declining."

MSF noted that a million residents in the country lacked access to medical personnel and infrastructure to deal with the health crisis.

The medical charity called on authorities to decentralise health centres and eliminate bureaucracy surrounding the management of medicine supplies in order to provide a more efficient response to the emergency.

© 2010 AFP

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