Eliminating Mother-to-Child-Transmission of HIV in Swaziland
On July 17, the Swaziland Ministry of Health (MOH), in collaboration with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), hosted an advocacy event in Ezulwini to highlight Swaziland’s efforts to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of HIV by 2015. The main purpose of the event was to galvanize politicians, civil society, faith-based organizations, church forums, donors, implementing partners, and communities to support the government’s pediatric HIV elimination goals.
The meeting was attended by Dr. Stephen Shongwe, Principal Secretary for the MOH; Rejoice Nkambule, Deputy Director of Public Health for the MOH; Her Excellency Ambassador Makila James, U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland; Natalie Kruse-Levy, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Director; EGPAF President & CEO Charles Lyons; and EGPAF Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen; among other dignitaries.
Photo: EGPAF Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen shares her story and
her hopes for an AIDS-free generation at a conference focused on
eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Swaziland.
Florence Ngobeni-Allen gave a moving personal account of losing her first child – her daughter Nomthunzi – and husband to HIV in the early days of the pandemic, when no treatment was available. She gave hope to the audience as she shared how she later re-married and gave birth to two HIV-negative children. “I became pregnant again for the first time since Nomthunzi passed,” she said. “But this time, I had treatment and access to anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to stop the transmission of HIV. My son Alex was born healthy and HIV-negative. Today he is a healthy, beautiful, growing boy. A few years after Alex was born, I gave birth to a second son, Kulani, who is also HIV-negative.”
EGPAF CEO Charles Lyons thanked the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for the incredible progress made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. “Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, and Dr. Richard Nehabi Kamwi, Minister of Health from Namibia, at an event at the U.S. Department of State to celebrate this significant milestone,” he said. “At the event, Secretary Kerry shared some exciting news -- as of June 2013, one million babies globally have been born HIV-free, thanks to PEPFAR support.”
During his remarks, Ambassador Makila James focused on the role of men in the fight against HIV. “I encourage men to take a lead role towards eliminating pediatric HIV and support their families and partners,” he said. “I also urge civil society to partner with the MOH to eliminate pediatric HIV in Swaziland.” James also reaffirmed the United States Government’s commitment to support the MOH in reaching their goal.
Dr. Stephen Shongwe, Principal Secretary for the MOH, celebrated Swaziland’s achievements in expanding prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services, but lamented that more work needs to be done in order to meet the 2015 elimination goal. “Despite all great achievements in PMTCT, key gaps still remain and these include poor male involvement, stigma and discrimination, and poor follow-up of mothers and babies in the postnatal period.”
Despite these challenges, the meeting re-energized the audience to continue efforts to eliminate pediatric HIV as the count-down to 2015 draws near. Dr. Shongwe concluded the event by making a plea to everyone present to work together and build upon recent momentum to achieve an AIDS-free generation. “As we continue to strengthen and sustain our program, we hope that the current relationships with our partners continue as we move ever closer to our goal. We ask for your continued support as we approach our target of achieving elimination in 2015.”
Caspian Chouraya is Technical Director for the Foundation, based in Mbabane, Swaziland.