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July 7, 2010

Swaziland

By Cynara Vetch

We held our Swaziland screening below the Royal Palace of  King Mswati III, the small country’s polygamous king . We arrived to a football tournament wih a 4000 strong crowd and elaborate tents were up set up to host the Minister of Health and the Minister of Tourism. VCT testing was provided by PSI and NATTICC, a Swazi based HIV organisation .

Hon Benedict Xapa, the Minister of Health had taken up the Africa Goal project as an opportunity to tackle HIV prevalence in his country. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world. The day had been featured heavily on the country’s television and radio stations and we were excited to see a big spread on Africa Goal in the national broadsheet and a television feature the next day!

We were welcomed into the Kingdom by the Minister and were treated to a delicious banquet. The Ministry of Health and SAfAIDS had provided food for 800 people and volunteers had been cooking over fires in their traditional cast iron pots since 5:00 that morning.

A counsellor who didn’t want to be named explained why HIV has spread so far through the country “It is because of our traditional way of life” she noted “men often have many wives. We also have many traditions. which can put people at risk such as the practice of giving young girls from poor families to be junior wives to rich families.”

Currently the King has 13 wives, his father ended his reign with more than double this number and the custom is unlikely to change any time soon. Rather than criticise the practice HIV activists in Swaziland educate people on “the importance of protecting themselves with a condom every time they have sex and with every partner.”

There is also a big drive to encourage male circumcision, the government has pledged a 100% circumcision rate amongst young men. At the prize giving Mr Xapa spoke to the captains of the football teams and urged them to set up health clubs at their different schools, any groups that were established the minister to pledged to have funded, the idea is that these young men will be leaders for their generation and persuade their friends and class mates to stop the spread of HIV.

Having climbed the roof a building and hung the screen high so the crowd would be able to see the game, we spent a frantic four hours desperately trying to get our satellite reception. Sadly due to a cancellation of our subscription by DSTV and communication problems we weren’t able to get signal. We went the tried and tested route and streamed the match through a grainy television set.

The technical problems were frustrating but we all agreed that the warm welcome from the Swazi people was one of the highlights of our journey. A journey that is quickly coming to a close. Only two more matches to go and these will be held in South Africa, home of the 2010 World Cup.

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