On the 12th August, the Honourable Prime Minister Mandvulo Dlamini officially launched a campaign on adolescents and People Living with HIV (PLHIV). The campaign was developed by UNAIDS, NERCHA and the Ministry of Health themed HIV MATTERS DURING COVID-19. Speakers included NERCHA Council Chairperson Mr. Nick Jackson, Minister of Health Ms. Lizzie Nkosi and HRH Princess Tsandzile. The launch was a reminder that HIV still matters even at a time where the country is facing one of toughest health battles in COVID-19. The Campaign was aimed at encouraging young people, mostly adolescents to get tested for HIV, adhere to treatment, and use preventive commodities. PLHIV that do not know their status and those who are positive but are not on treatment may be at a greater risk of getting coronavirus or developing severe symptoms.
The Minister of Health Ms. Lizzie Nkosi joyfully exclaimed the achievements reached by Eswatini in responding to HIV and AIDS that have attracted the whole world to learn from Eswatini. She further mentioned that the country will be assisting other countries with regards to their HIV and AIDS response, in line with the declaration made by UNAIDS on reaching the global target of 95-95-95.
The Minister added that as Eswatini continued with HIV response, government saw the importance of engaging young people at all stages as the most vulnerable group, hence the campaign. Decimating HIV would not be possible without having young people at the center of the response to HIV and AIDS. She further passed her gratitude to the Prime Minister for supporting the Ministry of Health as the country is facing double pandemics which are HIV and COVID-19.
The Prime Minister who was the guest speaker encouraged people who have tested HIV positive to start treatment immediately and strictly adhere to the treatment. He said as they travel to access these services, it is important that COVID-19 precautions are always observed. These precautions include regular hand washing with soap and running water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer, observing social distancing, and wearing mask always, especially in public spaces. Following the necessary advice, we can all overcome COVID-19 and AIDS added the Prime Minister.
“As we target young people in this campaign, may I implore our youth to fully comply to health advices and precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and HIV”, he highlighted. He said research shows that young people between the ages 15-24 are most affected by HIV / AIDS and a sizeable number of them are girls reported to be falling pregnant which is a sign that they do not use protection. “It is also imperative that our youth be consistently encouraged to use protective measures to prevent HIV infections. Prevention remains the Cornerstone of ending AIDS. We will not be able to treat ourselves out of the pandemic, only adopting appropriate behavior reduces the need for treatment,” he elaborated.
“Most Importantly, today marks the launch of the campaign which encourages our adolescents to live healthy lives by accessing HIV and sexual reproductive health services whilst adhering to all the mandatory COVID-19 precautions, in order to protect themselves, protect their loved ones and those entrusted with the response of the pandemic throughout the campaign, we are saying HIV still matters even during this time of COVID-19,” he said.
The Ministry of Health is currently providing three months’ supply of drugs to PLHIV. This service is available throughout our health facilities to allow Emaswati to access treatment without too much travelling as that may increase exposure to COVID19 infections. The Premier also urged young people to delay engaging in sexual activities, as this behavior may derail their education and career development. It is unfortunate that COVID-19 has led to the closure of schools, yet schools provided a protective environment for young people. “It is for these reasons that schools are encouraged to ensure the right to education is always protected,” he highlighted.
Dlamini highlighted that Government has developed partners with the LAST MILE project, which is Coca Cola Foundation, an initiative to develop necessary skills in young people to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, empower them on reproductive health rights and enhance their capacity to respond to COVID-19. These partnerships deliver a state-of-the-art evidence-based market related services to young people. He further requested that young people who are out of school be kept engaged and busy as they need support to develop technical skills.