Your Royal Highnesses
Members of both Houses of Parliament
UNAIDS Regional Director
Excellencies Members of the diplomatic corps
Senior Government officials
NERCHA Council Chairperson and members
NERCHA Director, management and staff
Representative of the Young Network of Positive
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour to be here today on behalf of His Majesty’s Government to launch the National Prevention Policy for the Kingdom of Eswatini and the 2019 World AIDS day campaign.
Today’s launch of these various documents and initiatives should be viewed as another key milestone towards the fulfillment of the vision to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2022. I believe that ending AIDS is only possible when all of us commit ourselves to working diligently and in unity towards achieving this goal.
Globally, the rate of new HIV infections is gradually dropping, especially within the SADC region. The Kingdom of Eswatini has recorded a 44% drop in five years (between 2011 and 2017), according to the 2017 Eswatini HIV Incidence Measurement Survey. This is the highest drop in the region. The HIV Estimates and Projections report shows that new infections will further drop to 1.24% by 2024.
While this is a significant and notable achievement, it is also worrying that the HIV incidence remains high among adolescent girls and young women in Eswatini. As a country we have set an ambitious target of reducing the HIV incidence among persons aged 15-49 years by 85%, and among infants aged 0-1 year to less than 0.05%. To achieve these targets, a deliberate and vigorous targeting of this population group with HIV prevention intervention is essential.
When the country introduced ARV’s in 2003, People living with HIV were required to have a CD4 count of 350 or below to qualify for Anti Retrovital Treatment (ART) enrollment.
However, in 2016 the country began to roll out the Test and Treat programme in which lifelong antiretroviral therapy was availed to all persons diagnosed with HIV.
The introduction of People Living with HIV to Anti Retroviral Theraphy (ART) was accelerated to reach 85%, and 92% of those are now virally suppressed. This was the earliest indication that the country was on a trajectory to end AIDs as a public health threat. However, studies have shown that 15% of the population does not use HIV Testing services to know their status and access ART.
Targeting these hard to reach populations which include adolescents and young people, adult men, key populations, mobile populations, prisoners and persons living with disabilities will help strengthen our resolve as a country to end AIDS by 2022. There is need to ensure that all living with HIV know their status, and as part of Government’s leadership function and responsibility, we will continue to support NERCHA and the HIV response to deliver interventions to reach the “left-behind” population in order to achieve epidemic control.
Enrolling people on ART has had the additional benefit of reducing the number of AIDS related deaths. Annual AIDS deaths have steadily declined over the years to 3,500 in 2017, and almost evenly distributed among women and men. Over 70,000 AIDS-related deaths have been averted since the introduction of antiretroviral therapy in 2003.
Life expectancy has also improved from an average of 38.8 years in the 1990’s to an average of 48years in 2018. Government commits to the continued provision of all services, including antiretroviral therapy, to people living with HIV.
While we are proud to acknowledge our achievements, we are aware of the need to focus on strategies to maintain these successes, whilst working towards closing identified gaps and strengthening our actions to achieve the desired target of the HIV response. It is for this reason that today we will launch documents that will guide and strengthen the delivery of interventions, and also launch new and innovative activities aimed at reinvigorating the response to achieve reduction of new infections.
It is my pleasure to therefore, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, launch the National HIV Prevention Policy 2019 - to guide stakeholders in delivering targeted HIV prevention interventions. I further launch the HIV Stigma Index Report 2019, and call upon all stakeholders to implement this report to create an enabling and happy environment for people living with HIV.
To make this dream a reality, the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, through NERCHA, will provide a kick-start programme directed at supporting People Living with HIV at grassroots level with a Regional Small Grants Programme.
The programme will ensure that befitting groups of People Living with HIV access grants of up to E30 000 per group to implement programmes on HIV at community level. This initiative will be monitored closely and, depending on annual performance, decisions will be made on future investments. Government has pledged E800 000 towards this programme.
Programme Director, distinguished guests, may I now turn my attention to the launch of the World AIDS Campaign 2019. You are aware that the Kingdom of Eswatini joins the world annually to commemorate the World AIDS Day, a campaign that seeks to raise awareness and advocacy on issues around the HIV epidemic in different communities around the world.
The Theme for the 2019 World AIDS Day is “Communities make the difference”. It recognizes the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response. As the country works towards attaining the goal of Ending AIDS by 2022, the theme in the local context will not only recognize the role that communities have played in the HIV response, but will also mobilize communities to intensify their efforts to achieve this goal.
Community dialogues and community-based activities will be activated in identified Tinkhundla centres, spanning across all four regions. Everyone is encouraged to participate in at least in one dialogue.
As the country has made an ambitious commitment to end AIDS eight years ahead of the Global Target of 2030, may I emphasize commitment from Cabinet and Government that we will support the vision of Ending AIDS!!
It now gives me pleasure, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, to launch the World AIDS Campaign for 2019.
Thank you. May God bless us all.