Experiencing World AIDS Day in Swaziland

Here’s a World AIDS Day post from our friends at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The photos are courtesy of Jon Hrusa/EPA.
I work in the communications department at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and World AIDS Day is one of the busiest days of the year for us. But this World AIDS Day – my fifth since joining the Foundation – was the first that I’ve spent in Africa, visiting Foundation-supported health clinics and patients in Swaziland.

This morning, after a misty drive up a steep, muddy dirt road, two colleagues and I visited the rural Mkhulamini Clinic. The waiting room was packed with patients; we had only a few minutes to visit with the nurses and give them some supplies donated by Foundation supporters in the U.S.

We also visited the more urban Luyengo Clinic, where we talked with the staff about the challenges they face in their prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV program. They told us how hard it is for pregnant women to disclose their HIV status to their husbands, and how some HIV-positive women stop coming for treatment after childbirth, because once their babies have been treated they no longer think it’s important to treat themselves.

Despite all the obstacles, the hardworking staff at both the Luyengo and Mkhulamini clinics help to prevent countless pediatric HIV infections each year.

But the most moving part of my day was our visit to the home of Mfanzile and Zanele Dlamini and their 13-month-old daughter, Phiwayinkhosi (“Phiwa” for short). The Dlaminis are patients at Mkhulamini Clinic – both Mfanzile and Zanele are living with HIV. Zanele received PMTCT services while pregnant with Phiwa, and so far the baby has tested HIV-negative – she’ll take her final test at 18 months.

Mfanzile and Zanele have almost nothing. They live in a tiny, one-room house with no running water and just one small bed. They survive through subsistence farming and Mfanzile’s small salary as a night watchman. They struggle to get enough food. But thanks to the antiretroviral medication and PMTCT services they receive, the Dlaminis are alive and they have hope for a healthy future.

When I looked into baby Phiwa’s eyes, I saw that hope. I envisioned her 20 years from now, as a healthy young woman. We can make it happen if we all work together – it’s time to create a generation free of HIV.

View more photos of the Dlamini family here.

-Heather Mason Kiefer, Senior Writer/Editor, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation