HIV/AIDS continues to play a leading role in the declining economy in the kingdom of Eswatini. With only just a population of slightly above 1 million people, HIV prevalence in Swaziland is at 27.4% adults, thus putting the kingdom in the number 1 sport in the entire world in terms of HIV infection/ people living with HIV/AIDS. More than 200 000 of Eswatini population is living with HIV, and of that population, 17 000 being children who either contract it at birth or are exposed to the virus at a very young age of their lives. Women too hold very high statistics of infected people, and they further are involved in being sex workers, which has also been an identified activity that has a huge impact in the increase in numbers of infected people in Eswatini.
This has caused government to spend a lot of money in trying to provide good healthcare for the people living with the virus. At some point government has had to put on hold some other big projects that would generate more income into the kingdom, but shift their focus onto the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, government has been able to establish clear priorities and strategies to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, within its border, through its revised national strategic framework. Through this process, government has made relationships with a lot of organisations, some locally and others internationally, which have shown interest in partnering with Eswatini in its fight against HIV/AIDS.
Most of these organisations which have partnered with Eswatini, have or are doing this mostly as non-profit making organisations (non-governmental organisations). One of the most influential and most prominent organisation that has had a huge impact in partnering with government in the fight against AIDS in Eswatini is the United Nations (UN). Through the UN, Eswatini has received a lot of support from organisations, some of which have had an impact then left and others which have been in the kingdom for quite some time now.
UNAIDS` goal is working towards stopping new HIV infections, ensuring that everyone living with HIV has access to HIV treatment, protecting and promoting human rights. This comes in handy with the situation that Eswatini is faced with; the increasing HIV infection. This has provided essential support to Eswatini to improve the national HIV response in achieving close to zero HIV related deaths in the future. The assistance has ensured better access to HIV services for all, especially children and adolescents, as well as enhancing the coordination and sustainability of the HIV response in Eswatini. The partnership with UNAIDS, has benefited Eswatini in increased HIV testing services (HTS) in the kingdom, and by 2016, a whopping 400 000 people out of Eswatini`s population had already gone through HIV testing.
Further, the assistance from UNAIDS as their goal is “working towards stopping new infections…” access to Anti retro-viral Therapy (ART) has been made easily available to all people living with HIV, without having them travel to the cities or hospitals in faraway places for their treatment. This once again has been one of the great plans to have been implemented by this organisation as a form of providing aid to Eswatini at large. Along with this, was the training of members in the communities who were taken in to be taught about treatment literacy, so they could help ensure that the people taking the ART`s in communities, take the right ones at appropriate times and have food along with their medication.
Prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) has also been of great help in the communities, since the number of pregnant women living with HIV seem to have grown, and for that reason a measure like this one had to be put in place. This PMTCT program, came about after a lot of HIV positive pregnant women infected their unborn babies with the virus, and that led to the kids living only for a short while before passing on. To this day, when medication has been properly taken, a pregnant mother can give birth to an uninfected child. This program has reduced the infant mortality rate to 48,4 deaths/ 1000 live births, that had been sky high in the past couple of years.
More organisations have since partnered with Swaziland to fight against HIV. Another one on the long list being PEPFAR; United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR actually leverages Eswatini`s national response by strengthening capacity and quality. It targets community based and faith based organisations. As part of fighting against HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, PEPFAR provides; resources, technical assistance, capacity building to ensure that interventions complement and build on existing programs and provide high quality HIV/AIDS related services.
PEPFAR has an initiative for addressing the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and help save the lives of those suffering from the disease, primarily in Africa. This initiative has been very evident in Eswatini since the partnership came into being. Though we still have cases of HIV infections in the country, since these organisations began working with the kingdom in reducing the number of infections, indeed results have been so evident. Eswatini has benefited from this partnership and now and again in our communities through external help from Peace Corps we find ourselves living with volunteers from overseas. This volunteers come into the kingdom to lend a helping hand in educating people about HIV, and also work closely with schools so to educate kids in schools as well.
EGPAF, Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation is another organisation that has committed itself into the fight against HIV in Swaziland. This organisation is on a mission to end paediatric through ground-breaking research, advocacy and prevention and treatment programs. Since EGPAF got involved in the fight against HIV in Eswatini, the infection rate has been reduced by a massive 50%.
In most instances people might not understand why there is so much involvement from other organisations in the fight against AIDS in Eswatini, instead of letting it be a government burden to carry. Well the answer is simple, all this is done out of goodwill. Government on her own could never carry all this and one of the main reasons to this is because we are still a developing country, we cannot support all eventualities that happen in the country yet, due to financial/economic and development reasons. Therefore getting aid or partnering with organisations like these in such situations like the fight against HIV comes as a huge relief to the country and the citizens.
Since government partnered with organisations in the fight against AIDS epidemic, the situation in the communities has changed. For quite some time in the communities we experienced a high death toll, each and every weekend was now “funeral day”, because our people were not educated. People did not know about how to take care of themselves after being diagnosed with HIV, the counselling programme wasn’t properly done, they did not even understand what it meant when told that they were infected with HIV.
The list of organisations that have partnered with government is endless, as some of these organisations prefer helping through anonymity and some do not mind appearing publicly. Some of these organisation include, PACT, National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA), CANGO; an organisation working to reduce and manage AIDS in Eswatini, partnership between government and the organisation dates back to 1999, UNICEF; which is more concerned about the young kids and ensuring a bright future lays ahead of them, Young Heroes; another organisation that also works with HIV Infected kids through supporting them with food, clothes, and education. The work these companies do is incredible, and for that reason today we see infection rates in Eswatini low and almost all the infected are taking their medication and living healthy responsible lives.
With the support from these organisations together with government, and the set standards set by each of these organisations to achieve, indeed Eswatini is on the right track in fighting against AIDS.