The lingering COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest are major threats to the progress made, while the progress is remarkable, HIV/AIDS remains a major public health crisis here in Eswatini
Gege-Despite the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, Eswatini has made significant progress in its attempt to completely eradicate HIV/Aids in the country. The 2021 eSwatini Population based HIV Impact Assessment survey results (SHIMS3), demonstrates that 97 percent of those aware of their status are on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 96 percent of those on ART have achieved viral suppression.
This is impressive progress despite the threats presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the World AIDS Day commemoration At the Gege Inkhundla, Prime Minister, Cleopas Dlamini mentioned that the government of Eswatini is beaming with exuberance at the achievement attained through the concerted effort of the multisectoral HIV and AIDS response programme.
Dlamini said “this success has been realised through the government’s outstanding commitment to collaboration with partners, including the U.S. government through PEPFAR, Global Fund, UN partners and civil society.”
“However, while considerable and yet impressive progress has been made towards ending AIDS as a public health threat, the HIV epidemic is not over and young people, especially, remain disproportionately at risk of new HIV infections. The task is for us as Eswatini to maintain and sustain epidemic control and turn the tide against AIDS forever,” emphasised Dlamini.
The Prime Minister noted that the HIV response has reached more marginalized populations as the 2021 commemoration was inclusive of persons with disabilities. “In 2023, the Kingdom of Eswatini will launch a new multisectoral HIV and AIDS strategy, which will be in line with UNAIDS 2021- 2026 strategy, aimed at meeting the 2030 global AIDS strategy. The new strategy will focus on prevention, treatment for all and sustainable financing for HIV/AIDS. I therefore urge all partners to support this endeavour as we strive to end the Pandemic.”
Making her remarks at the World Aids Day Commemoration, the United States of America’s Ambassador, Jeanne Maloney concurred with the Prime Minister saying “this tremendous success is a result of the leadership and collective efforts of the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, civil society, multilateral and bilateral partners, the private sector, and others. Despite this incredible progress, our work is not done, approximately 4000 new infections are still occurring annually, mainly among women.
According to Maloney “since its beginnings in Eswatini in 2005, PEPFAR has invested over E12 billion in support of Eswatini’s HIV response. The investment from this year alone amounts to E1.3 billion for HIV response, and an additional E17 million to support continued COVID response efforts and preparedness for future public health threats.”
However, Maloney warns “while the progress is remarkable, HIV/AIDS remains a major public health crisis here in Eswatini. This year, UNAIDS estimates that more than 2,600 people died of HIV-related causes and Eswatini’s third population-based HIV impact assessment estimates that approximately 4,000 individuals were newly infected with HIV. These figures have declined markedly from their historic peaks, but HIV continues to impact Emaswati. This year’s World AIDS Day theme ‘Equalize: Eswatini ending AIDS for all” captures the essence of our goals today. Eswatini’s HIV response must address the most vulnerable across all ages, genders, and population groups if it is going to be successful.”
She then addressed the young people of the country saying “the youthful population and the circumstances in which girls and young women begin engaging in sexual activity continue to be a dangerous combination – the annual rate of new infections among women is nearly seven times that of men. In addition to protecting young women, we must ensure that young men are accessing testing and treatment services both to protect their own health and prevent transmission to others. Only 63% of young men 25-34 years old living with HIV are virally suppressed. Without new approaches to engage and mobilize young men to know their status and embrace treatment, our goals to control this epidemic will remain elusive, and continue to put others, particularly young women, at risk.”
Looking forward, Maloney identified some significant threats as 2023 approaches,” we have additional concerns that threaten the progress we have made together. The social, economic, and health impacts of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest are major threats to the progress made. This is a moment to refocus our efforts on preventing new infections and address the social and gender inequality facing young people and the nation as swiftly as possible, in order to avert a backslide in HIV progress.