6 August 2014

Swaziland: Swazi King Parties While Children Die

The Swaziland Government spent about E5.9 million (US$600,000) on the official opening of the King Mswati III International Airport, it has just been revealed.

At the same time, at least 36 children have died from diarrhoea and more than 500 have been hospitalised after the government said it did not have money to pay for available rotavirus vaccines.

Had the US$600,000 been spent on the children, the government could have bought at least 93,000 vials of vaccine, enough for about 46,000 children.

The airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, was opened on 7 March 2014, but to date no airline has used it. It has been widely criticised outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

Among the costs for the opening of the airport was E1.2 million to hire a jet to land, stay parked and then fly off again. According to local media, the plane was owned by Antroma, a South African company that was awarded a contract without an open tender for baggage handling at the airport worth US$3.5 million per year.

According to the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, Government spent E686 840 on catering for guests; E250,683 for an air display; E200,000 on mobile toilets and E45,600 for a cake.

In 2003, when the decision to build the airport, which has cost an estimated US$300 million so far, was made the International Monetary Fund said it should not go ahead as it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland.

About seven in ten of King Mswati's 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. The King has 13 palaces and a personal fortune once estimated by Forbes Magazine to be US$200 million.

Today, Swaziland is in the grip of a diarrhoea outbreak that has killed at least 36 children. At least another 511 children have been admitted to hospital with the preventable disease. At least 3,042 cases in total have been recorded in the kingdom, according to the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini.

The Swazi Minister of Health Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane told the Swazi Observer newspaper that distributing the vaccine was not the top priority.

The newspaper reported, 'The minister said the rotavirus, vaccine was expensive; therefore rolling out the immunisation programme cannot not be done overnight since "it is a process and a strong budget is needed".'

According to the website of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a 10-pack of one dose vials of rotavirus vaccine costs US63.96 at commercial rates. That means US$600,000 could buy 93,750 doses of vaccine.

However, a World Health Organization Bulletin stated that GlaxoSmithKline has offered to provide its vaccine at US$2.50 per dose. At that price 240,000 doses could be purchased. Typically, a child would need two doses for protection against diarrhoea.

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