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WORLD AIDS DAY CAMPAIGNS PROVIDED KEY MESSAGES FOR HIV RESPONSE

By Samkelo Mahlalela | 2017-12-07

In his weekly column, ‘Come to think of it’, seasoned and respected journalist, Ackel  Zwane last week made some damning analysis on World AIDS Day (WAD), and what he perceives it to mean for Swaziland.

My understanding of his take is that it is all about the food; creates business that benefits only a few; and offers mixed messaging. Clearly, everyone is entitled to his opinion, which should also be respected.

I, however, feel a bit of an urge to address the part on the mixed messaging.

For me, the most critical issue regards the ‘HIV POSITIVE’ T-shirts distributed in Nhlangano so many moons ago (which are central to the mixed messaging assertion). 

That  this should  always  be interpreted within the context of the agenda set for that year’s commemoration. Particularly, the T-shirts were distributed as a communication tool to reduce HIV related stigma, wherein there was need to inculcate a culture of non-difference, irrespective of HIV status.  And yes, the idea was for both positive and negative people to  transmit the same message through wearing the same T-shirt.

At that time, HIV stigma and discrimination were at their worst, the world (and country) sought to encourage people living with HIV to live their lives freely and do so openly, to put an end to the many human rights abuses that were their everyday reality.

To this day, stigma and discrimination continues to have a devastating effect on the lives of people living with HIV and on those closest to them.

 It undermines the efforts to tackle the epidemic. Stigma and discrimination cause young people to become reluctant to test for HIV, to disclose their status and to access treatment, care and support. The quest for zero discrimination is still full steam.

That said, the perceived negative message sent out then, surely dished out its lessons. The country has since moved to provide clear messaging for each World AIDS Campaign related event – passionately driven by Muhle Dlamini, a veteran of the HIV and AIDS response, who no-doubt, had his hands burnt in the quoted incident.

The 2017 World AIDS Day

The theme ‘Ending AIDS Together’  was selected in recognition of the national agenda to ‘End AIDS by 2022’, as well as to celebrate the SHIMS2 results which indicate we are on that trajectory.

The objective of WAC/WAD 2017 was to increase awareness on the agenda, to eliminate new HIV infections and ‘End AIDS by 2022,’ as well as to call for action, commitment and unity to the elimination of the new HIV infections and ending AIDS deaths, where the general population and all stakeholders play a role towards achieving the objectives.

Main messages from key 2017 events

The are several highlights from the various activities that took place as part of the 2017 World AIDS campaign (WAC). Some of the key messages are:

  • Launch – Launching the WAC/WAD 2017at the Hope House in Manzini on the 31st October, Minister of Health, Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane stated that “Ending AIDS Together’ urges us to look closely at the factors that make us individually and socially vulnerable to acquiring HIV, from a physical and mental standpoint.”

This, she said, means an examination of the social determinants of health – reduction of stigma, access to health, involvement of all communities, and increasing of resources for funding the response. “In order to end AIDS together successfully, we have to fight the disease and its symptoms.

We have to fight stigma and discrimination… we have to fight poverty… we have to fight inequality, in terms of human rights and economic opportunity,” noted Minister Ndlela-Simelane.

  • Manzini Regional WAC

 

–  The first of  three regional campaigns, was held on Friday, 10 November at the Mhlambanyatsi Inkhundla, with young people as the target population.

The guest speaker, Honourable Owen Nxumalo, Minister for Public Service, called upon all the young people and the adults present, to ask themselves: ‘Why HIV infection remains high amongst young people in the country; and What could be done to stop these new HIV infections and end AIDS as a public health threat in Swaziland?’

Answering his own question, Nxumalo said the answer lied within all present, and that all knew what needed to be done and had the necessary experience. He said since the first HIV case was discovered in Swaziland, government had made available an array of options that can ensure that no new HIV infections occur.

“Young people have the option to delay sex. We are sure about this as a viable option. It is the safest, and it is heartening that we still have many young people below the age of 18 abstaining from sex. This is encouraging and should motivate more young people to delay sex.

Delaying sex has great benefits. You will worry less about pregnancy, HIV and other STIs. This gives you a chance to explore the dreams you have and try to have a better future. Condoms are available for those who have started. Mothers can give birth to uninfected kids. Men can circumcise.

In the unfortunate event a person is violated, he or she can access services such as post- exposure prophylaxis. These are just a few examples of the varied options we have at our disposal that we can use to ensure that we do not get infected with HIV.”

  • Hhohho Regional WAC – Was held at Ndzingeni on Friday 17 November and the guest speaker was Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Honourable Jabulani Mabuza.

He observed that men are still not accessing HIV services, hence a large proportion of the men in Swaziland do not know their status, and visit health facilities only when they are already very sick.

He encouraged participants to commit to ending AIDS together and change this trend. He urged that “Men as heads of families should set the example by taking the initiative to access health services early to avoid complications later.”

Minister Mabuza, however, noted that stigma and discrimination remain a menace to all the effort made in addressing HIV and AIDS.  He stated that stigma is one of the main reasons why men and young people are reluctant to test for HIV, to disclose their status and access treatment.

 “During this time of the World AIDS campaign, let us double our efforts to fight stigma and discrimination. Let us commit to working together to overcome ignorance and address all ills which cause stigma and discrimination, including fear,” he said.

  • Lubombo Regional WAC

– The venue was Njojane Primary School under Hlane Inkhundla.

The guest speaker, Honourable Phineas Magagula, Minister of Education and Training, who spoke through Mhlume Member of Parliament, Honourable Sifiso Magagula.

The minister noted that the “ENDING AIDS TOGETHER’ theme is fitting for the nation as it provides an opportunity to reaffirm our determination to work together in taking the response to the next level, and should inspire us to unite as we engage the ‘last push’ towards an AIDS free Swaziland.” 

He said the day was an occasion not only to reflect on what the country has achieved so far, but to strategise on how we will overcome the epidemic, with the objective being for every Swazi to know their status. Those living with HIV should be initiated on treatment immediately and assisted to adhere, while those that are HIV negative should be encouraged to remain so, to end AIDS by 2022. 

With the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign running alongside the Lubombo regional WAC,  Minister Magagula also had a message regarding the GBV scourge.

 “There is an undesirable practice that seems to be growing in our society, that of gender based violence, including raping of minors below the age of five. Not only does it perpetuate the spread of HIV, but it undermines humanity.

 This is unacceptable. Real men must stand and be protectors or shields of adolescent girls and the  young instead of being perpetrators. I appeal to the leadership within our community to raise the bar when it comes to such issues so that this despicable behaviour is abolished,” he said.

  • National World AIDS

Day Commemoration

As both Minister responsible for HIV/AIDS and as Head of Government, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. B. Sibusiso Dlamini, offered his official annual World AIDS Day message through a statement read by the Acting Prime Minister, Senator Paul Dlamini at Sigwe Inkhundla in the Shiselweni region, on 1 December.

 the prime minister said that an enormous amount of progress has been made across the world, further noting that we have partnership between governments, communities, non-governmental organisations and generous development partners such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund to thank for that progress. 

He urged that we should never forget the remarkable scientific achievement represented by the anti-retroviral medication itself, which has transformed societies and economies and pointed them back towards the place from which HIV and AIDS mercilessly drove them.

“Ending AIDS in Swaziland by 2022 is an objective we must turn into reality. HIV prevention is an essential component of Ending AIDS in our families, communities and across the country.  Preventing HIV requires there  be no new infections. 

The recent SHIMS 2 results in that respect are inspiring and strengthen our resolve that, as nation, we can end AIDS as a public health threat by 2022. Globally, all countries are expected to systematically deliver on prevention outcomes,’ stated Dlamini.

The prime minister then presented the United Nations 100 days action plan to the Swazi Nation as a short-term roadmap to catalyse the country’s collective efforts and provide a boost to the national prevention response. Through this roadmap, Swaziland is expected to demonstrate progress in attainment of the Ten Point Plan for accelerating prevention at the country level, and report back in February 2018.

The Ten Point Plan aims at meeting the target of reducing new infections by 75 per cent between now and 2020. “I call upon the nation, young and old, to embrace this target of reducing new infections.”

 The choice is yours. What are you doing to end AIDS by 2022?

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