Using Research To Shape an Effective Response to HIV/AIDS in Swaziland
POSTED BY MAKILA JAMES / DECEMBER 01, 2012
World AIDS Day in Swaziland has a particularly profound meaning, as Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. The recent PEPFAR-supported Swaziland Health Incidence Measurement Survey (SHIMS) -- the first such comprehensive survey of its kind on the impact of key HIV prevention programs -- indicates that 31 percent of the adult population is living with HIV. It is a staggering number and one that all persons working in the health field in Swaziland has at the forefront of their minds each and every day as they participate in the national fight against the disease. Without a doubt, achieving an AIDS-free generation represents a serious challenge in the Kingdom of Swaziland, but one that we are committed to addressing with our many partners in the country.
The United States government is working together with the Swazi government, the people of Swaziland, and numerous health and development organizations to face that challenge through our PEPFAR Partnership Framework. A recent event I attended demonstrates how the Swazi government, through our PEPFAR support, is using science to ensure that the interventions to address the AIDS pandemic represent the most strategic approach to preventing new infections and mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on the people of Swaziland.
On November 7-9, 2012, the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Swaziland hosted its second National Health Research Conference, supported by PEPFAR. This event brought together both Swazi and international decision-makers, health practitioners, researchers, and academics to examine HIV in Swaziland, to share the latest findings and to ask the important question, "Is our current approach to fighting HIV the most effective based on science?"
This conference was not an academic exercise carried out by distant scientists. Everyone participating at the conference has been touched by AIDS. There was no one present in the conference hall who didn't want to succeed in this fight and everyone recognized the value of research in helping us get there. Research will help ensure that Swaziland is making smart decisions in shaping programs to meet the health needs of its people, while also making maximum use of limited health resources. The Swazi Ministry of Health is taking a leadership role in using science and research to create a stronger response to the pandemic. Our PEPFAR program is supporting the Ministry of Health by investing in building Swaziland's research capacity. It was very clear during the National Health Research Conference that this is an investment that will have a lasting and positive impact on the health of the Swazi people.
It was inspiring to witness the conference itself, but also exciting to imagine the potential impact of a more science-based approach. This new emphasis on implementation of local research findings into the creation of more effective interventions could bring us that much closer to the AIDS-free generation for which we are aiming.
All of us working on this huge challenge in Swaziland are inspired every day by the increasing engagement of young people, students, community leaders, average citizens, civil society organizations, and government officials, to help attain the goal of an AIDS-free generation. Every time I visit a school in which the children present their hopes for a healthier future, challenge government to provide the care and treatment for their communities, and accept responsibility for protecting their bodies to prevent new infections I am moved by what is indeed possible. As the country commemorates World AIDS Day, the prospect of more effective, science-based interventions to save lives of the people of Swaziland and greater ownership for addressing the problem by all is truly something to celebrate.