World AIDS Day 2012: A Celebration in Swaziland

EGPAF and various additional partners convened at Siphocosini Clinic to commemorate World AIDS Day 2012 last week. 529 people participated in the event, which featured  the American Ambassador to Swaziland, Her Excellency Makila James, who was introduced to the audience by Ministry of Health official and Hhohho Health Regional Administrator Dudu Mbuli.

The event began with a 2.5km AIDS Walk, which started at Ndlelalula and ended outside of the Siphocosini Clinic. The walk ended with an overwhelming performance by the “Drum Majorette Girls” from Siphocosini and Bhekephi schools. The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day was “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-Related Deaths.”

Since EGPAF’s main focus is prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), this event placed emphasis on the importance of male involvement, and was guided by the technical guide for community dialogue. To that end, EGPAF hosted a theatrical performance by Simomondiya Drama Group, which addressed HIV stigma, couple testing, disclosure, adherence, multiple concurrent sexual partnerships, and early enrollment into PMTCT.

The performance was followed by the much-liked breakout sessions, facilitated by the EGPAF team of PMTCT/HTC Mentors and other health care workers from Partner NGOs. The sessions included group discussions emanating from the drama performance, and community views issues and myths surrounding PMTCT.

EGPAF/Swaziland Country Director Dr. Mohammed Ali Mahdi gave a brief talk on the story of Elizabeth Glaser, and surveyed the current status of HIV in Swaziland.

“We are proud that our PMTCT services for pregnant women are among the best in all of Africa,” he said. “We have the health workers, the HIV tests, and the medicines available in our clinics to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to our babies – and if our babies do become HIV-infected, we have the medicines that can keep them healthy for many years.  Our health workers have been trained and are skilled in providing care.” In his speech, he emphasized the need for family support and male involvement in PMTCT.

During her keynote address, Her Excellency congratulated EGPAF for its spirit of partnership and community engagement. “This is not a time for us to celebrate our past victories, but a time to confront the future challenges caused by HIV as a team,” she said. “The spirit of unity and teamwork that I see here will propel us towards winning the fight against HIV.”