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SWAZILAND: Donor Support For Health Sector Drying Up

Mantoe Phakathi

MBABANE, Jun 10 2009 (IPS) - As the global economic downturn begins to take its toll on developing countries, Swaziland's health system – already strained by the burden of HIV/AIDS – has come under severe threat. The third of the national health budget which comes directly from donor agencies is abruptly drying up.

The Swazi government will spend $5.34 million of its own money fighting the pandemic this year; the bulk of the resources for AIDS campaigning will come from the Global Fund Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which has allocated the country $30 million annually over a period of five years.

In January, Global Fund board chair Rajat Gupta said the Fund faces a five billion dollar gap between money pledged and projected grants. Budgets for plans approved in the present round of grants have been cut by ten percent – characterised as a 'required efficiency saving', but with the possibility of further cuts to be imposed if developed countries do not meet the funding shortfall.

According to Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (SWANNEPHA) finance manager Gcebile Simelane, their budget allocation has been slashed from $130,000 last year to $100,000 this year. Swannepha is a non-governmental organisation which benefits from the Global Fund through the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA).

"We’ve been told that because of the global economic downturn we could not receive the $180,000 we had asked for from Nercha this year," said Simelane.

The National TB Programme, also a recipient of Global Fund support, has seen its $13 million budget allocation over five years slashed by ten percent.

Themba Dlamini, the TB programme manager, blamed this on the global economic crunch. Both Dlamini and Simelane said the reduction of funds means HIV/AIDS and TB campaigns will have to be slashed, with potentially serious implications in a country where about 220,000 people out of the population of one million are infected with HIV. Of these, 80 percent are co-infected with TB.

Others also struggling

Since January, funding for the Cabrini Ministries from private donors in the United States of America, Australia and Italy has gone down by 90 percent because many of those donors are now struggling to keep their companies running. The Cabrini Ministries are a faith-based organisation based in the eastern part of Swaziland where in addition to HIV/AIDS, poverty and drought have also ravaged the place to the core.

"What’s worse is that while donor funding has decreased tremendously in our case, inflation has gone up," said Cabrini Ministries’ financial officer Sister Barbara Staley.

It might not be possible for the organisation to carry on with its programmes under the circumstances because they are not receiving any subvention from government. The Cabrini Ministries takes care of 1,500 TB/AIDS patients and cares for 150 orphans and vulnerable children.

The future of all 150,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland could be in jeopardy. While the government pays school fees for the destitute children, they get a lot of food support from donor-funded agencies.

The global economic meltdown has also forced the faith-based organisation Lutheran Development Services (LDS) to shift its focus. Instead of doing developmental work, LDS is now moving towards advocacy and human rights. According to Meketane Mazibuko, LDS gender coordinator, the organisation realises that giving people fish instead of a fishing rod is no longer an option.

"At LDS we’re now into empowering the people to take it upon themselves to demand their rights from government," said Mazibuko. "So, instead of engaging in water projects like we used to, we now empower the people to demand clean water from government."

Mazibuko said this move has been necessitated by the fact that donor funds "are drying up" and there is no longer money to buy building materials, equipment for water supplies and farm inputs.

"The economic recession has thrown us into a state of uncertainty because right now I don’t even know if I’ll get paid at the end of the month," said Mazibuko.

The overall funding cuts have had an unfortunate effect on women’s rights and gender equality programmes, which are suffering the most severe blow because under the prevailing circumstances many donors would rather fund HIV/AIDS programmes rather than those dealing with the social roles of men and women.

"For many donors, it makes more sense to fund HIV/AIDS because they think the impact of sick and dying people is greater than the economic, political and social imbalance between men and women," said Mazibuko.

Fears for the economy

In the meantime, inflation rose gradually throughout 2008 and now sits at 8.8% and there are fears of job losses as investments shrink. Central Bank of Swaziland governor Martin Dlamini warned that although there have not been retrenchments in the big industries in the country so far, there are threats from the textile and timber industries of closing down.

"Foreign direct investment to Swaziland has been severely reduced," said Dlamini.

These threats are worrying the Swazi government because the unemployment rate is already high at 28 percent, while two thirds of the one million-strong population lives on less than a dollar a day.

While the Swazi economy has not yet experienced massive retrenchments and major repossessions of properties and cars as in neighbouring South Africa, Muzikayise Dube, an economist, has warned that it is inevitable that Swaziland would be faced with the same problem.

Swaziland exports over 60 percent of its goods and services and imports over 80 percent of its total goods and services from South Africa.

What makes Swaziland even more vulnerable, reasoned Dube who is also a research and policy analyst at the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority, is that the textile industry, which was established under the African Growth Opportunity Act, is dependent on the U.S. market. The U.S. is one of the developed countries hard hit by the economic downturn.

"We’re getting reports that companies in the textile industry are no longer getting new orders," said Dube.

With business under threat, the funding of HIV/AIDS and TB programmes funded by employers could also be threatened, just as public programmes face the threat of reduced donor funding. It can only get worse for the Kingdom.

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