ICW dismayed at recent prevention campaign in Swaziland

The Reasons Makhwapheni Campaign is not good in our opinion as PLWHAs in Swaziland

We have learnt with dismay that the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) has commissioned a campaign aimed at behaviour change called Makhwapheni. We, on behalf of women and people living with HIV/AIDS, want to categorically state that, the people in particular the women living with HIV/AIDS are responsible citizens of the Kingdom of eSwatini.

Makhwapheni in our society refers to women’s secret lovers. The campaign is enforcing that women are responsible for the high incidence of HIV in the country as they are the ones spreading it. Women have always been blamed for transmission of HIV and their crime is that they are the first to know their status when they present at a health care facility for ante natal care. How then are we as society ignoring the fact that many women got the virus from their own beds or grassmats, knowing for sure that we are a heterosexual community? Why is the blame always on women yet many women living with HIV and those that have died of AIDS related conditions got the virus from a man?

In the conceptualization of the campaign there was no effort by NERCHA to meaningfully involve people living with HIV and AIDS. Through the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA) NERCHA has been approached on several occasion to bring to their attention our concerns. Twice NERCHA promised to hold the campaign but it still appeared on the national media. On Monday 10th July 2006 at the launch of the National Strategic Plan and Policy Siphila Nje Drama Society dramatized the campaign referring to women as bomakhwapheni, this in itself is discriminating against the women. Please be reminded that Swaziland has ratified CEDAW. With the 42.6% prevalence in the country this is not the time to point fingers at who is bringing the virus but it is time to focus on stopping new infections and empowering those that are already infected to keep the virus to themselves. It is in the meaningful involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS that we are all partners and not viewed as the problem. In fact we are part of the solution.

We find the name makhwapheni insultive and degrading. Makhwapheni is someone you can not show in public. The advert that says “usetse shelele, buya ngikwebele. Tasala tintsandzane makhwapheni uyabulala” means that the people living with HIV are bomakhwapheni. The orphans whose parents died of HIV/AIDS related illnesses are left to deal with the fact that their parents were bomakhwapheni. For us who are open about our status the public will view us as bomakhwapheni. The negative implication will be that the people who may/may not know their status will not want to go through this discrimination against people living openly with the virus, and the battle against HIV/AIDS will be lost.

In the early 80s the information that was out there was iAIDS iyabulala. With that kind of message many people just gave up and the prevalence continued to rise. This showed that using fear does not work in the response to HIV and AIDS. Today in 2006 if we say makhwapheni uyabulala we are going back twenty years and it will not work. There are also some moral elements in the campaign and we know that will not work because it has not worked in the past.

The moralistic and judgmental approach to the response to HIV and AIDS is perpetrated by people who do not even know their status and it has not worked. It did not work twenty years ago and there is no way it can work in 2006.

The campaign in its entirety does not acknowledge the presence of discordant couples in our society. The one partner in a relationship who is positive will be the one who has brought the infection. In this regard it will promote friction amongst these units.

While there is no innocent victim when addressing the epidemic makhwapheni uyabulala campaign ignores the fact that there are many children who are living with HIV or AIDS who got the virus from their parents, also partners who transmit HIV to innocent ones through bomakhwapheni.

Further advocacy has to be positive; as such we should be working towards mounting a campaign which is premised from the positive rather than negative. At the core of the campaign we should be reduction of transmission rates through practicing safer sex. If we concern ourselves with multiplicity and legitimacy of sexual partners, we shall be lost in a maze and in the process transmission rates will be continuing unabated,

In view of all the above our constitutional rights of protection from inhuman or degrading treatment have been infringed and grossly violated.

PETITION TO THE PRIME MINISTER ON ISSUES OF CONCERN TO PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV AND AIDS (PLWHA)

WHEREAS People living with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland formed a national network of people in 2004, SWANNEPHA, amongst other things:

  • To strengthen the capacity of member organizations of SWANNEPHA to play an effective role in the national response;
  • Enhance a unified and forceful voice of PLWHA to be reckoned by policy-makers and partners;
  • To advocate for a meaningful involvement and participation of PLWHA in all aspects of national response;
  • To promote the reduction of stigma and discrimination and build a positive image of PLWHA.


WE, the undersigned, members of the Swaziland National Network of People living with HIV/ AIDS,

NOTING that the incidence of HIV and AIDS in Swaziland has reached unacceptable proportions and that is having a negative effect on all citizens of Swaziland, in particular PLWHA;

NOTING FURTHER that the seriousness of the situation was acknowledged by His Majesty King Mwasti III by declaring it a ‘national disaster’ in 1999 and stating that “Yindzaba yetfu sonkhe” in 2004.

NOTING FURTHER that the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland has committed herself to implementing various programmes to address the situation of HIV and AIDS in the country, through various international, regional and sub-regional Commitments, including the following:

Abuja Declaration (2001 and 2006) where there was commitment to, amongst other things, to commit 15% of the national budget to health;

  • UNGASS Declaration (2001);
  • SADC Maseru Declaration on (2003);
  • Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW - ratified by Swaziland in 2004);
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC - ratified by Swaziland in 1995)
  • Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/ and AIDS (1994)

NOTING FURTHER that the Government of Swaziland adopted and officially launched the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Policy, the Second National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic plan and Action Plan on 10th July 2006.

DEEPLY CONCERNED that the following issues have not been adequately addressed by government

(i) continued stigma and discrimination of PLWHA in all spheres of life;

(ii) lack of equitable and universal access to care and treatment by PLWHA;

(iii) inadequacy of meaningful involvement of PLWHA in all aspects of designing; planning, and implementation of interventions addressing HIV and AIDS nationally;

(iv) absence of adequate protective legislative measures to address the added vulnerability of women and children to HIV infection;

(v) absence of legislation recognizing and protecting the rights of PLWHA.

FURTHER CONCERNED that institutions such as NERCHA which is charged with coordinating the national HIV and AIDS continue to implement campaigns without consultation of PLWHA such as the offensive Makhwapheni Campaign which has serious implications and to which SWANNEPHA has repeatedly objected in but in vain;

FURTHER CONCERNED that the latest Campaign – “Makhwapheni Uyabulala” – is completely inappropriate in the following key respects:

I. it is sexist and promotes feminisation of the pandemic by reaffirming the notion of women as vectors of infection;

II. it is discriminatory against PLHWA and perpetuating the existing stigma and discrimination;

III. it continues to instill fear and may have the consequence of driving the pandemic underground thus resulting in the loss of the gains made in promoting testing and knowledge of one’s HIV status;

IV. it has the potential to cause irreparable damage to children who have been orphaned by and are vulnerable due to HIV and AIDS

V. the campaign does not do what it claims to do – the campaign claims to address multiple partnerships yet does not address the central issue of safer sex which is what we seek to address.

VI. it is acting as a catalyst to breaking intimate relationships and does not consider discontent couples and implications thereof.

VII. it is contradictory to the spirit of the constitution, especially, Section 24(3) b which provides,

Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision - that is reasonably required for the purpose of-

(i) protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons or private lives of persons concerned in legal proceedings;

NOW THEREFORE WE, MEMBERS OF SWANNEPHA, HEREBY call upon His Excellency, the Right Honourable Prime Minister to:

I. give due recognition to PLWHA as partners in the national response;

II. direct NERCHA to ensure meaningful and effective consultation in their programs and campaigns so as to avoid perpetuating the exclusion, stigma and discrimination of PLWHA in adherence to GIPA;

III. direct NERCHA to align its Campaigns with the objectives articulated in the NSP

IV. initiate a process in parliament of review of legislation that impact on HIV and AIDS and is aimed at recognizing and protecting the rights of women, children, and PLWHA.

RE: PRESENTATION OF PETITION AGAINST MAKHWAPHENI CAMPAIGN

This is to give a progress report regarding presentation of a petition by Swaziland Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA) on the recently launched Makhwapheni Campaign.

Prime Minister’s Office

To SWANNEPHA’s disappointment, the Deputy Prime Minister in the absence of the Prime Minister was not available to receive the petition. There was no option but to hand the petition over to a Mr. Nxumalo whom we were reliably informed that he always receives such on behalf of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, we were comforted that he signed a copy as proof of receipt.

NERCHA

A disappointment at NERCHA, we were met by the Public Relations Officer, yet we had registered our intention to meet with the Director or his deputy. It was hurting to see complex involved issues of HIV and AIDS compounded with gender issues being reduced to a Public Relation’s issue yet His Majesty the King declared it a national disaster a few years ago with the hope that everyone including those in key making positions, will give it the weighty attention it deserves. We thus decided to paste the petition on the Director’s door and forward the same electronically.

MEDIA REPORTING

We have noted with concern the manner in which the march and incidental activities were reported in our local media. Since the media is a powerful tool to reach the masses we will always follow with keen interest stories or articles relating to HIV and AIDS.

As people living with HIV and AIDS we would like to promise the nation that we will continue to seek to work with those that are looking for solutions to the challenges posed by the epidemic. We seek to stop stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV and AIDS as well as women.

APPRECIATION

Our heartfelt appreciation goes to all our allies for the solidarity they showed and the assurance of their support as we try to respond to the challenges of the epidemic. These include the Swaziland Nurses Association, Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, Swaziland Hospice at Home and the many individuals who saw it fit to identify with us wearing the “HIV positive t-shirt”. We are indebted to the Royal Swaziland Police for their protection throughout the days’ programme. Our appreciation also goes to the Mbabane City Council for permitting the march to go through the city en-route to the Prime Minister’s Office and NERCHA. That gave us a chance to advocate to the public without talking that HIV is among us.