Field Notes: Marching for AIDS Action in Swaziland

Drum majorettes lead a lively two mile march for World AIDS Day in Swaziland.

E. Bond/ Swaziland

Summer drizzle could not dampen the spirits of more than 500 activists who marched against AIDS in West Mbabane, Swaziland, on Dec. 7, 2013. Led by drum majorettes from the Siphocosini and Bhekephi schools, marchers chanted and danced up two miles of hills from Ndlelalula to the Mahwalala Sports Ground outside the Red Cross Siphocosini Clinic.

Swaziland has the world’s most severe HIV epidemic, with the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world among pregnant women at 41 percent. Twenty-six percent of the population is living with HIV.  Thirty-three percent of Swazi children are orphans.

The theme for this World AIDS Day event was “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-Related Deaths.”

Upon arrival at the summit, participants picked up information about HIV from booths, received HIV testing and counseling, and lined the sports grounds. Soon the event was under way, providing both substance and style, including speeches, skits, and precision dancing by teenage boys.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) was a main sponsor, along the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society, the Peace Corps, and several other nongovernmental organizations. The local member of parliament for Mbabane West, Johane Shongwe also attended. Many of the speeches and entertainment focused on the crucial role of men in fighting AIDS.

“It takes two to make a child and it takes the same to protect the child from infections,” stressed EGPAF Country Director Mohammed Ali Mahdi, M.D., when he addressed the crowd. “It is very important that both parents test for HIV to give every child the opportunity to lead a healthy life.”

Mahdi told the assembly that in order to stop HIV, society has to be willing to talk about it. Events like World AIDS Day brings public health concerns out of the shadows.

As if on cue, the drizzle slowed, then stopped, and the clouds rolled up into the higher hills.

Eric Bond is EGPAF’s senior writer, based in Washington D.C.