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Swaziland Cuts HIV Infection Rate in Half

FILE - A patient waits for his pills as he meets with a nurse at Nhlangano health center in Swaziland, Oct. 28, 2009.
FILE - A patient waits for his pills as he meets with a nurse at Nhlangano health center in Swaziland, Oct. 28, 2009.

The U.S. government says the HIV epidemic is "coming under control" in Swaziland, the country with the world's highest prevalence of the virus.

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said Monday that new infections among adults in Swaziland have dropped by nearly half since 2011. It said the latest research also shows that life-saving anti-retroviral treatment has doubled in the country during the same time period and now reaches over 80 percent of infected adults.

PEPFAR has focused much of its efforts on increasing access to anti-retroviral drugs for over 11 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Monday's statement also says the southern African nations of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe "demonstrate significant progress toward controlling the HIV epidemics."

The U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Deborah Birx, said "These unprecedented findings demonstrate the remarkable impact of the U.S. government's efforts ... We now have a historic opportunity to change the very course of the HIV epidemic."

The data shows that the number of people in Swaziland who have achieved a suppression of the virus - meaning the virus does not replicate to make them sick - has doubled since 2011.

While the results show large progress in combating the epidemic, it also reveals key gaps in HIV prevention and treatment. PEPFAR says the data shows that women ages 15-24 and men under age 35 are less likely to know their HIV status, be on HIV treatment, or be taking anti-retroviral drugs than older adults.

"These gaps are all areas in which PEPFAR continues to invest and innovate," the statement said.

Swaziland's government says about 27 percent of its population was HIV-positive in 2016, down from 31 percent of adults in 2011.

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