On Friday, May 17, 2013 AIDS Healthcare Foundation hosted the Swaziland Candlelight Memorial and Keep the Promise March in conjunction with local government’s Public Service HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee (PSHACC). The march through the southern African country’s capital city of Mbabane saw hundreds of marchers coming together in a united call for sustained access to treatment through increased and maintained funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria – global programs that have seen funding cuts from the Obama Administration.
The march began at the Ministry of Public Service around 12:30 pm, and many citizens chose to spend their lunch break taking in the political action as the hundreds of protestors thronged through the streets of Mbabane led by two brass bands from the army and police forces. The procession concluded with a candlelit memorial in the main hall of the city’s St. Mark’s High School, where many distinguished guests gave speeches and gospel artist Nduduzo Matse performed.
Speakers at the memorial included PSHACC Director Richard Phungwayo, Pastor Zakhele Malaza, and Thembi Nkambule, the Director of the Swaziland Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, who spoke of the importance of adhering to an antiretroviral treatment regimen if one is living with HIV. AHF Swaziland’s Country Program Manager, Dr. Nduduzo Dube, also spoke to the large crowd, addressing the challenges facing Swaziland as a result of the impending PEPFAR budget cuts and reinforcing the importance of continuing the global AIDS fight through personal choices like regular HIV testing, condom use, and the eradication of HIV stigma.
Additionally, several people shared their experiences as Swazi citizens living with HIV; these testimonials included the stories of Mr. and Mrs. Chirwa, two police officers who shared stories about living well with the virus and disclosing their HIV status. Schoolteacher Ms. Lindiwe Mahlalela also gave an inspirational speech about the challenges people living with HIV in Swaziland face every day, and the importance of supporting programs that promote treatment as prevention. Fifty-eight people were tested for HIV at the event, of whom three tested positive and were immediately linked to care.