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King, AIDS activists condemn Swaziland official's claim

By Faith Karimi, CNN
  • NEW: King Mswati says his government is committed to fighting AIDS
  • The king's top adviser says drug companies are using scare tactics to benefit from HIV
  • AIDS activists say the adviser is setting a bad example

(CNN) -- The king of Swaziland on Thursday distanced himself from a top adviser who has come under fire for saying the nation's AIDS epidemic is exaggerated to help benefit drug companies.

Prince Mangaliso is chairman of a group that advises King Mswati III.

During an interview with The Times of Swaziland, the adviser said that public awareness campaigns against the disease are scare tactics used by drug companies.

"This pharmaceutical industry is making a lot of money, and if there was no HIV, there would be a lot of people who would lose business," he told the newspaper last week. "What is now happening is that they are making so much exaggeration about HIV/AIDS so that they can keep their businesses afloat."

The king's office decried his stance and underscored its commitment to combating the disease.

"Government wishes to reaffirm to the nation that the HIV and AIDS pandemic is still a national emergency, as declared some years ago by His Majesty," the king's office said in a statement to CNN.

Swaziland has a 26 percent prevalence rate, one of the world's highest, according to the United Nations.

King Mswati, who practices polygamy, has also come under fire by activists.

His office said it has started programs to help combat the disease, including male circumcision and extensive medical research.

Many African countries have undertaken a campaign to promote male circumcision after a study showed it reduces the risk of infection by 60 percent.

"I therefore request everyone -- especially those in leadership positions ... to give full support to the government position," the statement said.

Mangaliso, the adviser, also questioned whether male circumcision helps prevent the disease, saying that it was no more effective than bathing after sexual intercourse.

AIDS activists condemned the adviser's statements.

"It is very irresponsible for a man in his position to say that," said Siphiwe Hlophe, director of Swaziland for Positive Living.

"We have let the prince know that his statement sets a bad example. We have the world's highest rates and he should be using his position to educate the public."

Mangaliso's comments mirror those of South African president Jacob Zuma, who was acquitted of charges of raping an AIDS activist four years ago.

During the trial, he said he knowingly had consensual sex with a HIV positive woman and thought he could ensure his safety by showering afterward.

Earlier this year, Zuma launched a program to combat the disease by making a public announcement that he's HIV negative. He said he shared his results to promote openness and eradicate the silence and stigma accompanying the disease.

Hlophe said she hoped that like Zuma, the prince will change his stance and join the fight against the disease.

"As he misleads the nation, more people are dying," she said. "He must respect the nation, the people and the work AIDS activists are doing to help stop the spread of the disease."

Swaziland, a tiny southern Africa nation, is the continent's last absolute monarchy.