Why We Are Here

Many people have never heard of the small country of Swaziland. With all of the suffering all over the world, it is possible to wonder why we are working here in particular and not somewhere else. But there is very good reason- Swaziland is the face of a humanitarian emergency. This small country has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world according to UNAIDS- meaning 33.4% of everyone 15-49 has HIV. Also, in 2004, Swaziland had the lowest life expectancy of any country in the world- this means people are living to an average age of 31.3 years.

In these times with treatment for diseases like HIV and TB available, it is just unacceptable that people are dying at 30 years old. Imagine what it does to a whole country if all the younger generations only reach the age of 30. This is why we have so many orphans, so much economic instability and poverty and hunger, and so much disease. It is a vicious storm of related factors that comes on over years, and takes years to repair, leaving us in the midst of a full-blown fever-pitch emergency.

Photo: Eva-Lotta Jannson/IRIN/Red Cross – Swaziland still “stands to lose the next generation of human capacity”

A new report by researchers Alan Whiteside and Amy Whalley of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa used the country of Swaziland as their example of how HIV/AIDS in southern Africa is indeed a “humanitarian emergency”- but unlike traditional short-term humanitarian emergency thinking, requires rethinking and a long-term response. Whiteside also makes the connection between falling social and economic well-being indicators in Swaziland with the HIV prevalence rate- basically, the more HIV in the country, the sicker the country will appear all around.

Photo: Eva-Lotta Jannson/IRIN/Red Cross – Maize production has more than halved in AIDS-affected households

Aid agencies like the UN’s IMF need to change thinking from fix-gap short-term solutions, to longer-term real solutions. (It is suggested that perhaps this emergency state in Swaziland could have even been avoided with more comprehensive prevention and treatment interventions earlier…!) NONE of the southern African countries or multilateral organizations have achieved their goals of universal access to treatment medicines (antiretroviral therapy drugs-ART).

Fiona Napier of Save the Children in South Africa says that the impact of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa is “profound.” Indeed, when we are sitting with our hostel children who have all suffered some form of loss due to deaths of family members, and we hear their stories and see the effects this loss has on the children mentally, physically, and emotionally, we can agree the impact is “profound”- profoundly wrong.

Despite whatever you may think of HIV/AIDS, when it comes down to it, it is a disease like any other that has afflicted humanity mercilessly over time. There may be no “cure,” but treatment is available in the form of medicines that restore people to normal life. Still, people are not getting treated. Why are people moved to respond to immediate humanitarian disasters like a tsunami, hurricane, or wildfire, but not disasters that have been able to get out of control for too long- like HIV/AIDS here? This report tries to argue that this is a disaster with the same effects as any other…

Click on the link below to read:
IRIN article: SWAZILAND: Declare HIV/AIDS a “humanitarian emergency”

We can change long-term problems, though it might be more difficult than a short-term action. Real change is made through programs like orphan care (taking care of the next generation), health care (getting sick people treatment to restore their livelihoods), and agriculture and education programs. Forging a relationship with one child through sponsorship is a great and rewarding way to support the long-term change needed here. (A heartfelt THANK YOU to all our sponsors out there! More info about our sponsor-a-child program is here: Sponsor A Child in Swaziland)

A person needs food, shelter, education, health, and love, and they are all needs that depend on each other to be met, and none can be neglected. This is why we’re here- in Swaziland, but also in the deeper sense- on Earth!- to help each other meet our needs, and be full, beautiful, healthy people.

Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane

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