ESWATINI BECOMES SHINING EXAMPLE IN UN HIGH LEVEL MEETING ON AIDS
……Meeting ends with adoption of new ambitious political declaration
40 years after the emergence of the first case of HIV in the world and 25 years since the creation of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) – the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting (HLM) on AIDS came at a historic moment for the AIDS response. After weeks of robust discussions, the High-Level Meeting ended with the adoption of a new ambitious Political Declaration.
Between 08 and 10 June 2021 people living with HIV, senior United Nations officials, representatives of international organizations, the private sector, civil society, academia and other stakeholders participated in the discussions on the progress that has been made in reducing the impact of HIV and on practical ways of translating the new political declaration into action and results. This follows that the the last high-level meeting on AIDS was held in 2016.
The High-Level Meeting was convened by the President of the General Assembly, with two co-facilitators – the ambassadors of Australia and Namibia. 193 Member States were represented, including Eswatini, and speakers included 14 presidents, five vice-presidents and four prime ministers. Besides the five thematic panels, 30 supporting events took place with many high-level dignitaries participating. The events covered issues from the role of parliamentarians in the HIV response to how to scale up harm reduction and empower young people and adolescents.
Representing Eswatini in the HLM was the Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Simon Zwane as well as NERCHA National Executive Director, Khanya Mabuza. In his Remarks, the Acting Prime Minister commended the United Nations, supported by her partners including the Global Fund, PEPFAR, the World Bank and others, for providing strategic guidance to the HIV response and ensuring that clear, albeit ambitious, targets are set, shared and consistently monitored. He said the Investment Case of Eswatini developed in 2016 was instrumental in identifying the key areas for investing in the Kingdom, and this included provision of ART, TB-HIV Coinfection, Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) as well as prevention programs targeting Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW).
“The implementation of these prioritised programmes was guided by the human rights and gender-based considerations and further ensuring that the public health approach to service delivery is promoted to all persons without any form of discrimination.” He asserted. The Acting PM made it known to other world leaders that the Kingdom of Eswatini is committed to finance the response and encouraged donor partners to prioritise AIDS financing in order to sustain the gains we have made as a country. He added that the Kingdom was pleased to be signatory to the global declaration and that with the necessary support, the country will attain the 2030 UNAIDS goal of ending AIDS.
In another session, Health PS, Dr Simon Zwane proudly told leaders that in the three decade period, ESwatini has put forward a formidable response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. He shared how it all started; from humble beginnings where a National multisectoral response to the epidemic was formed and guided by national strategy frameworks. Dr Zwane said one of the major strategies that have worked so well for the Kingdom of Eswatini, is the high political commitment from their Majesties, which is prioritized every beginning of the year during the opening of parliament. “The opening of parliament is a momentous occasion which every citizen looks forward to, as His Majesty King Mswati III gives direction on the country’s development agenda for the ensuing year. This is where the country always receives high political commitment in the HIV Response, beginning from 1999 when His Majesty declared HIV and AIDS a National Emergency”, He acknowledged.
The PS went on to share strategies that the country has employed for the success of the response, such as the active participation of communities, innovative approaches and strategies, partnership support including the active participation of people living with HIV. He went on to decry, however, that the glorious achievements have not been without challenges, such as Gender Based Violence (GBV), teenage pregnancy and poverty amongst others.
Dr Zwane concluded by pointing out that despite the challenges that still persist, Eswatini had made significant strides in dealing with HIV related stigma and discrimination. He said, “The Kingdom of Eswatini has united in the global action to reduce stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS through the creation of a supportive stigma reduction framework to inform implementation of the HIV and AIDS policy, advocacy and programming. The overall objective is to determine manifestations of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against PLHIV in the Kingdom of Eswatini.”
During one of the side events, NERCHA participated in a panel discussion on HIV Prevention. NERCHA National Executive Director, Khanya Mabuza, on behalf the multisectoral HIV response, joined international leaders in the HIV Prevention Coalition Group. The panel held discussions under the theme: No Prevention, No End! How Leadership for HIV Prevention can turn an epidemic!
The overall aim of the session was to reinforce the urgent need for Leadership to drive decisive action and get back on-track to achieve HIV prevention targets by 2030. In their presentations, leaders needed to show that it can be done, and spotlight examples where leadership on prevention has moved the needle in HIV responses. During discussions, leaders also addressed resilience of HIV prevention programs alongside the intersecting COVID-19 epidemic responses.
In his presentation, Mr. Mabuza shared with the rest of the world how the mainstreaming of HIV prevention in different sectors has worked for the response, emphasizing however that there is a need to address inequalities affecting HIV services in line with the global principle of leaving no one behind. The National Director also shared extensively on the approaches ESwatini has taken to focus on prioritized data driven prevention interventions for optimized impact. He said, “Eswatini uses Population based data, mainly surveys to inform HIV prevention programming. For example, the HIV incidence Measurement SHIMS survey which shows HIV infections in different population groups, in the process showing gaps where prevention programs are needed the most. For key populations, the Integrated Biological and Behavioral Survey (IBBS) triggered the need for Eswatini to target key populations.” He went on to boast about the Eswatini HIV Recent Infection Surveillance (EHRIS) Program which is a tool that shows directly where new HIV infections are coming from. And yes, there are still few countries implementing this kind of survey.
Eswatini also uses National AIDS Spending Assessment (NASA) which shows how much money is being spent on HIV prevention and where funding gaps in prevention are. HIV Estimates and projections show national and regional level estimates and produces outputs like estimates of HIV incidence, prevalence, new HIV infections, number of people living with HIV, ART coverage to mention but a few. Both Population based survey and routine data indicate that the country’s major drivers are disproportional. The structural drivers are socio-economical and influenced by gender inequalities.
The High-Level Meeting ended with the adoption of the new ambitious Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Ending Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030. The declaration is based on evidence, grounded in human rights, and will serve as an important guideline to advance the global HIV response over the next five years.