Swaziland is a small kingdom – an absolute monarchy – with an autocratic king who owns all the land. There are approximately 1 million inhabitants. Although the birthrate is high, the population increases by only about 1,5% per year owing to frequent deaths resulting from the HIV epidemic.
Four out of five inhabitants make their living through farming. Small family farms on land that formally belongs to the king are the most common. A serious problem for the Swazi farmers are the frequent droughts, which lead to shortage of food and sometimes famine. This affects the majority of the population, as 75% of Swazis live in rural areas. 65% live in extreme poverty, on less than 1,25 dollars a day, unable to afford bare necessities and daily nutritional requirements.
Swaziland is one of the countries most seriously affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Around 230 000 people were estimated to be living with HIV in 2010. 33,4% of Swazis aged 15-49 are HIV-positive today, a larger percentage than in any other country in the world. These are the official statistics, but many people we’ve spoken to estimate that the actual numbers are much higher. The consequences for people’s health are catastrophic, resulting in the world’s lowest average life expectancy and the greatest number of orphans per capita.
In 2013, Doctors Without Borders named Swaziland one of the world’s ‘10 forgotten catastrophes’. The report also notes Swaziland’s high rate of HIV–TB co-infection and the rising number of inhabitants with drug-resistant forms of TB (DR-TB).