The Dlamini Family: Swaziland

Jon Hrusa

Zanele and Mfanzile Dlamini live at the top of a hill, on a winding dirt road outside Manzini, Swaziland. They share a tiny house with their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Phiwayinkhosi, whom they call Phiwa.

Zanele is 24 years old and Mfanzile is 28. Life has not been easy for either of them.

When Zanele was a child, her father was often ill and her family had little money. She attended school sporadically and her classmates often made fun of her because she had no shoes.

As a teenager, Zanele went during school holidays to live with her sister in another town. She met Mfanzile and he started asking her out. She ignored him at first, but Mfanzile won her over when he gave her a pair of shoes and money for a new school shirt. Her father passed away that year, but Zanele was able to continue her studies with Mfanzile’s support.

In 2005, 20-year-old Zanele became dizzy during school exams and was taken to the hospital. She discovered she was pregnant. During her pregnancy, Zanele also learned that she was HIV-positive. She told Mfanzile about her HIV status but he was unreceptive to the news. Mfanzile did not get tested for HIV.

Zanele dropped out of school and gave birth to a baby girl, Tema. But unfortunately she did not receive treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and Tema was never tested. When she was a year old, Tema became sick suddenly and passed away.

The time after Tema’s death was difficult for Zanele and Mfanzile, but they continued to see each other. In 2007, Mfanzile became sick and Zanele took him to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation-supported Mkhulamini Clinic. Mfanzile finally agreed to be tested for HIV and learned that he was positive. Zanele and Mfanzile are now both receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to control the virus. They married in 2009.

Zanele gave birth to Phiwa in 2008, and Phiwa is now 18 months old. She has been tested several times for HIV and recently received her final test results. Phiwa is HIV-negative, thanks to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services that she and Zanele received at the Mkhulamini Clinic.

Zanele, Mfanzile, and Phiwa face many challenges. They are shunned by much of their family due to their HIV status. Their one-room house has just one single bed. Zanele fetches water from a spring in a ravine a half-mile away, balancing the 55-pound water jug on her head while carrying Phiwa on her back.

Mfanzile recently fell ill and lost his job as a night watchman. The couple farms crops on their small plot of land, but they have barely enough money to pay for food and the monthly trip to the hospital to collect the government-supplied ARVs that keep them alive.

But the Dlaminis have hope — you can see it in Phiwa’s eyes. Thanks to the support the familiy receives from the Swazi government and the Foundation, Phiwa has the chance to grow up free of HIV.

UPDATE: After several months of declining health, Mfanzile passed away in June 2010. Zanele and Phiwa, while still healthy, were removed from their home by Mfanzile's relatives and have gone to live with Zanele's mother.

The Dlaminis have become a symbol of hope for the Foundation and we're devastated by this news. Their story reminds us that while there is hope for women and children like Zanele and Phiwa, AIDS is still a deadly disease, and the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is still very much alive.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Zanele and Phiwa, and we're more determined than ever to eliminate pediatric AIDS.