The Reality of HIV/Aids in Swaziland

Before coming to Swaziland, I had a picture of what I thought I would see. It wasn’t a clear picture, but an idea I guess. You hear of so many different statistics and I think that those numbers become your picture of what you will see. I would read that Swaziland is the highest AIDS infected country in the world….that 40% of the country is infected. These numbers are staggering. I think about how this would look in Canada. Our doctors would be overwhelmed. Our pharmacies would have line ups for people waiting to pick up their ARV’s to stay alive. Our hospitals would be overrun attempting to prolong people’s lives and give them a dignified place to die.

What I thought I would find in Swaziland is the same desperation to find medical help, but without the access to it. I thought AIDS would have a clear face….that we would be able to see its effects and maybe even discover possibilities of how to solve them. What I have found is very different.

I have learnt that AIDS is an almost invisible disease here in Swaziland. The only evidence we have seen of it so far is when the missionaries working with the children tell us which children are infected because they have taken the initiative to find out. Maybe I had this idea that everyone that was infected would have a sign on their back or something….but the reality is that this disease is a silent killer here. People do not know if they are infected or not. The stigma is so negative, and the education is so poor, that people simply will not get tested for this disease….because if they don’t get tested then they don’t know….and if they don’t know then they are not infected.

Jumbo (the South African worker from Children’s Hope Chest) told me something that startled me. He said, “nobody dies of AIDS in Swaziland.” I was confused and asked him what he meant. He explained that the shame of the disease is still so high that people won’t mark on their death certificates that they died of AIDS….but rather of TB or some other disease. We had heard statistics before we came of the HIV infection rate in Swaziland…..some places said 38%, some said over 40%. Jumbo said the latest he had heard was 44% from the UN statistics. In the Western world we trust and rely on statistics to give us a picture of any given problem we see. The thing is, those statistics really don’t mean anything here…..any statistic you read is actually just at best an educated guess. The reason I say that is that very few people in this country have ever been tested. Most do not know if they are infected or not. When people get sick from this disease, they are not taken to get help, but are left alone in their homes to die….and when they do die, the family will make up another disease that killed them to avoid the stigma.

Relief workers have tried to help, and have made some progress….but it has been very small. When clinics are set up in rural villages, the people will be told to come for testing the next day and everyone will say “yes, I’ll be there”. They will prepare for hundreds of people, and 3 will show up.

The stories we hear are heartbreaking. The freedom that this disease is given is so sad. Children being infected by their fathers & uncles. Mothers infecting their children through breastfeeding….not because they want to….but because their babies will die if they don’t get fed and they have no other source of food. The effects of this disease can be seen everywhere. In a country of around 900,000 people, over 120,000 children are orphans because their parents have died from AIDS. (these are one the ground statistics). In the past few years, the country’s population has dropped by 15-20% because of people dying from AIDS….and those people are dying alone…..silently….and in horrific conditions.

The fact that AIDS is killing this country is absolutely true. The effects of this disease are devastating. But the reality of this disease in Swaziland, is that it is invisible.

Jon

6 thoughts on “The Reality of HIV/Aids in Swaziland

  1. You know there are a lot of churches and agencies that support all sorts of different needs in different countries.What I appreciate about the way you are getting Riverwood involved,is that you are actually there and meeting the people,seeing where they live, and doing such a great job on keeping us involved!Thank You so much for including us in your trip, it helps to put faces and names to people to pray for.God bless you as you pick out our care point!

  2. Thank you for the updates on your journey to finding a carepoint for our church. The four of you are experiencing so much, giving much love and prayers and receiving the same back. I am following in awe, as this has been my calling since I was a llittle girl. Our prayers are with you as you make the monumentous decision of where our care-point will be! May God continue to richly bless all four of you on this journey!

  3. I believe Jesus is saying Thank you for being my hands and feet this week. Give those kids my love. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. It has affected us so much. I am reading these horrific facts with tears running down my face. I am proud to be a member of our church. A church that has been called by Christ himself to take action against these problems. Love Trina and Taylore.

  4. In the midst of all the human suffering each of you have witnessed, it is our prayer that God will speak to your hearts in the selection of Riverwood’s care point. Our hearts ache over the pictures of all the babies you are holding but we rejoice in the fact they can experience your loving touch, if just for awhile. Let us hope you have just commenced many Canadian churches extending Christ’s comfort over there. May God protect and guide you as you complete the start of our mission.

  5. We are sure feeling like this is the beginning of something very significant for Riverwood and that God is leading us into this. Our love and hearts are with you.

  6. A Declaration prayer:”Heavenly Father I bring Pastor Todd and Carolyn, Pastor Jon and Kelly before you.Today and every day while they are away from Winnipeg choosing our Care Site, I declare in the name of Jesus that they be under Your protection, direction, and strength. I place them under the protection and blessing of my believing prayers.In every choice that confronts them, I declare that they will receive wisdom to understand the righteous path and they receive the grace to choose that path.Keep them from all accident, injury and illness. Lead them away from temptation and trial except for the ones you have specifically sent for their growth and for their good.Fill them with your Spirit and passion for the work You have for them. Give them a spirit of wisdom, understanding, compassion, discernment, grace and mercy as they seek to love these children and to minister to their needs.I declare that no thing, no obstacle or circumstance will prevent them from carrying out their purpose. I pray that You protect their hearts and that they would accomplish all You have set out for them during this trip.Amen.”

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