People love a good underdog story, from David and Goliath, to the Vietnam War, we love to read about battles that seemed one sided, but have shockingly unexpected results. These inspire us, they show us that the ways the odds are set, are not always the way that the chips will fall. Swaziland has now added itself into the ranks of uplifting stories of triumph; the results are out, the tides have turned, the country with the highest prevalence rate of HIV and AIDS in the world, is now marching out on top.
According to national research done in 2011, the number of adults (aged 18-49) infected with HIV was recorded up to 31%, in a country of 1.2 million people, that’s around 372,000 people. In five short years, this number has been decreased by an astounding 46%, which now means, that those infected number up to around 17,112. The Daily Maverick reports that “The latest data, based on blood tests from about 11,000 people aged 15 and over, showed that 27 percent were HIV-positive in 2016”, which means that out of that pool, 2,970 were found HIV positive. More people than ever are shown and applying methods and medication to supress the virus. Antiretroviral therapy (ART), has helped to ensure that the spreading of the virus, its replication, and the vulnerability of the immune system, have all been reduced. Where in 2011, only 17.6% of the population knew their status, 2016 has seen 36.7% coming out more knowledgeable and prepared to improve their health[i].
Kwakha Indvodza (KI), the male mentoring organisation, believes in the building and grooming of boys and young men in their three pillars of growth: Financial Independence, Social Responsibility, and Male Health. The organization has had an impact on the people of Swaziland, creating waves and moving mountains in the lives of many since its beginning in 2012. With two camps on average held per month, with over 30 boys and men at each one, KI has had a high conversion rate of 80% when it comes to male circumcision. Their lessons, workshops, and initiatives, have not been in vain, as is seen by the recent results released at the 9th Annual International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science held in Paris on Monday 24 July 2017. The PEPFAR fact sheet[ii] shows that Swaziland is leading in the 90-90-90 goal on controlling the HIV epidemic. This is an international project that tracks the progress of individual countries in how they are doing in inhabitants above the age of 15 (a) 90 % of the population Knowing their HIV status, (b) 90 % of HIV positive people are on ART treatment, and (c) 90% of those in treatment have the HIV virus supressed. According to their results, Swaziland is at 85% for (a), 87% for (b), and 92% for (c), it is now listed as the country with the highest results, closely followed by Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia. These results confirm that “HIV infections were nearly halved and HIV viral load suppression has doubled in the country since 2011”. All this has been possible through PEPFAR supporting and funding programs such as the voluntary medical male circumcision procedures, and Social Behaviour Change Communication programmes which have contributed to this result. The other PEPFAR-supported Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Surveys (SHIMS) conducted in 2017 show “a dramatic decline in HIV prevalence for the 18-29 age group, which is surrogate for declining HIV incidence in that age group.” The Shims report also “depicts an increase in HIV prevalence among those over age 30 – consistent with individuals who are thriving on treatment.”[iii]
The hero in an underdog story will confront and face obstacles that seem bigger, greater, and more powerful than they are, but it is in these challenges that they show their resilience, strength, and determination to overcome. Kwakha Indvodza focuses on men, because it believes that to enact effective change in the battle against HIV, men have to be involved. It is organizations and initiatives like that, which have contributed to the 52% decline in HIV incidence in men along the 40% for women. It takes more than one half to recognize the value of a coin, it takes more than one pair of hands to move a nation along, it takes both men and women to conquer the odds stacked against them, and if it takes having been an underdog before, Swaziland is marching on to becoming an epidemic free realm.
[i] Daily Maverick: Swaziland turns around world’s highest HIV infection rate: report
[ii] PEPFAR Fact Sheet 2017
[iii] PEPFAR Fact Sheet 2017
Daily Maverick, Swaziland turns around world’s highest HIV infection rate: report, Online web: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-07-24-swaziland-turns-around-worlds-highest-hiv-infection-rate-report?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Afternoon+Thing+24+July+2017+Gathering&utm_content=Afternoon+Thing+24+July+2017+Gathering+CID_96bd4a8d7feeaca38dd82f8b3ecb0111&utm_source=TouchBasePro&utm_term=Swaziland+halves+HIV+infection+rate#.WXbll3FLe1u
PEPFAR Fact Sheet, PEPFAR Latest Results Online web: https://www.pepfar.gov/documents/organization/273047.pdf
By Anesu Makufa, reviewed by Mzingaye Sibanda.