BY MANDLA LUPHONDVO
NERCHA National Executive Director Khanya Mabuza says HIV and AIDS must remain on the development agenda still despite milestones that have been achieved by the country in responding to the challenge. Mabuza was speaking during a media briefing meeting on the World AIDS Campaign, at Sibane Hotel today.
‘We need the media, more than ever, to help keep HIV and AIDS in the news for the public to realize the seriousness of the challenge and the inherent imperative to keep doing what we have been advised over time to do, to reduce new infections, for instance,’ said Mabuza.
Mabuza said other countries have learnt the hard way that if you keep HIV and AIDS out of the radar you are only compounding the problem. ‘For some of these countries, shifting the focus has resulted in a burst in new infections in subsequent years. As a country, we cannot therefore afford to shift and shelf HIV and AIDS into a dark corner like it’s not a huge developmental challenge anymore,’ he added.
Mabuza further clarified that whilst some people are skeptical that we may not live to see zero new infections, as the on-going theme proposes, it is actually possible to have zero new infections in different sectors of society. He made an example that Swaziland is respected in African for successful implementation of prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV program. Considering that the country is now at virtual elimination (less than 2%), it is possible to get to zero in that category and the others too.
Swaziland started commemorating World AIDS Day in 2002. However, these were once-off events that lacked follow-up and were therefore difficult to monitor for impact. In 2006, the World AIDS Day Commemoration was decentralized. And that is precisely why there will be regional campaigns that would pinnacle on December 1 in Shiselweni region.
According to NERCHA's Prevention Coordinator Futhie Dennis-Langa, this year’s campaign has been crafted in a manner that it will not be a ‘hit-and-run’ kind of campaign. About three communities in each region have been identified to scale up implementation of HIV and AIDS activities. These communities are currently running a range of HIV and AIDS prevention dialogues themed: ‘Getting to Zero: from Dialogue to Action.’ These dialogues are assisting communities understand the underlying drivers of HIV and AIDS. From the dialogues, communities will be equipped to make informed decisions also come up with action plans – relevant to the communities to respond to HIV and AIDS.
Speaking on behalf of the faith-based response on HIV and AIDS during the media briefing was Reverend Zwanini Shabalala. Reverend Shabalala said for them World AIDS Campaign is a huge opportunity to showcase what the church is doing to respond to HIV and AIDS.
‘Throughout the year, churches are involved in a range of activities which inherently contribute towards HIV and AIDS prevention. This includes preaching of abstinence for our young people and fidelity for those who are married. These messages contribute towards responding to the challenge of HIV and AIDS,’ said Reverend Shabalala. He lamented that in pockets of the church there is still a challenge of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. He rebuked those who teach doctrines that disallow members from seeking medical attention.
The first regional campaign, which drew over 2 000 people last Saturday was held at Ekukhanyeni Inkhundla. Tomorrow, the regional World AIDS Campaign will be held at Motshane. Award-wining gospel sensation Shongwe and Khuphuka Saved Group will provide entertainment as actors in HIV and AIDS mobilize people to test for HIV. This year’s World AIDS Day will be commemorated in Nhlangano, King Sobhuza Memorial Stadium on December 1, which falls on a Sunday. The commemoration will take the form of gospel festival. People are encouraged to come through and test for HIV.