The three-month Eswatini Condom Nation tour made its sixth stop on Saturday in the country’s capital city of Mbabane. There, in the middle of the city at the bustling New Mall car park, over 45,000 condoms were given away and 136 people were tested for HIV, of whom 16 were found to be positive and immediately linked into local care.
According to the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the HIV prevalence in Eswatini is 26% of the population, which represents about 190,000 individuals. By comparison, South Africa – a country that for many years had the highest HIV prevalence in the world – currently has a prevalence rate of 17.3%. Women employed in factories in Eswatini are also disproportionately impacted by HIV prevalence: just over 50% of female factory workers in the small country are living with the virus, according to humanitarian news source IRIN News.
Due to local advertising about the condom education and distribution tour, many shop owners in the Mall already knew the event was happening that day and came forth requesting condoms to give to their customers. In addition to an information desk and several performances – including one by local hip hop artist KRTC, who composed a hit song to encourage young people to use protection during sex – 26 youth peer educators split into four groups to distribute condoms in the streets, shops, salons, public toilets, restaurants, and buses.
In total, 44,144 male condoms and 987 female condoms were given away. The action also enabled the Eswatini Condom Nation team to identify areas where to place condom dispensers in the public area to ensure access for sexually active people in Mbabane.
“Our stock of LOVE condoms quickly ran out,” said Zanele Dlamini, AHF Eswatini Prevention Programme Coordinator, of the zealous public response to the tour. “A big attraction for the information desk and question-and-answer sessions was the female condom. People wanted to see it closely and touch it and find out how it works.”
The Eswatini Condom Nation tour is the product of a partnership between AHF Eswatini and other leading government and non-government AIDS service organizations. The three-month campaign led by the Eswatini Ministry of Health’s Sexual Reproductive Health Unit (SRHU) aims to increase both access and education surrounding condoms and proper condom use. It began on June 22nd and will make a total of ten stops throughout Eswatini, culminating on August 24th in Manzini.
According to the in-depth National Strategic Framework report examining the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic from 2009-2014, condom use levels are between 50% – 60% during higher risk sex, and knowledge of where to access female condoms is low with only 46% of women and 28% of men knowing where to find them.
Because many young people in Eswatini still believe that abstinence is the ideal way to prevent the spread of HIV, they are often too embarrassed to seek out condoms if they do decide to engage in sex. This, coupled with the idea that not using condoms with one’s partner shows a sign of trust and commitment, has led to HIV prevalence being highest among young adults, peaking at ages 25 – 29, an age group in which one of every two women is HIV-positive. For young people aged 15 – 24, HIV prevalence is 22.7% for women and 5.9% for men.
In addition to the Ministry of Health and AHF Eswatini, partner organizations on the campaign include Alliance of Mayors’ Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Family Life Association Eswatini (FLAS), Lusweti, and Population Services International Eswatini (PSI Eswatini).
The next stop on the tour will be hosted in Siteki on August 3rd.