MANZINI, Eswatini–AHF Eswatini, one of AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s thirteen programs on the African continent, is starting off the new year on a high note – celebrating its 15th anniversary – under the theme “Keeping the Promise.” In 2007, AHF started providing free lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART) to people living with HIV in the Kingdom of Eswatini (then Swaziland).
As part of its commemoration, AHF Eswatini will unveil its newly constructed state-of-the-art LaMvelase Centre of Excellence in partnership with the Manzini City Council (who provided the land on which the clinic sits). The new edifice, which costs more than SZL 31M (about $1.8M) will house the AHF Country Program Office and a more expanded HIV prevention, care and treatment and other related services space for the over 15,000 patients it serves. Amenities include a laboratory, consulting, and counselling rooms, a pharmacy with automated pill dispensing rooms, conference rooms, TB treatment unit, cervical cancer screening and treatment unit, and a play area, among others.
Over the years, the organization’s foray and expansion in the country have been characterized by a rich history of impressive partnerships at the individual, national, and local levels – with the entry and startup of the program in Eswatini spearheaded by two of AHF’s Board Members (Dr Condessa Curley and Anita Williams). In 2006, AHF signed a public-private sector partnership with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to establish a service point to care for people living with HIV – including the provision of ART – at the LaMvelase Help Centre. By the following year, AHF entered a Memorandum of Understanding with the Manzini City Council, Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), Population Services International (PSI) and Alliance of Mayors’ Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL) to establish the LaMvelase Clinic in Manzini.
“Today started as a dream seventeen years ago, at the height of the HIV epidemic in Swaziland, when the Medical Non-Profit Founders working in Swaziland, Anita Williams, Dr Condessa Curley, and Madam Mhlanga of the Swaziland Ministry of Health called Mr. Michael Weinstein (AHF’s President and Co-Founder), asking if AHF would please open a clinic in this wonderful country called The Kingdom of Swaziland,” recalled Anita Williams and Dr Condessa Curley, Members of AHF’s Board of Directors. “Seventeen incredible years later, we celebrate that extremely successful dream – Michael and AHF, we all thank you for saying YES!”
From Manzini in 2007, AHF has expanded its footprint across the country, with a presence in Nhlangano, Mbabane, Piggs Peak, and Matsapha, serving over 33,000 patients as of January 2023. Additionally, the program’s model and services have continued to receive national recognition while recording many firsts. AHF’s LaMvelase and Matsapha clinics have continued to bag top awards for service delivery. AHF (with Médecins Sans Frontières) was the first to introduce TB LAM for patients with advanced HIV disease in the country and the first to offer third line drugs and HIV resistance testing to a few patients when treatment costs averaged SZL 3,000 a month.
“Today’s dual celebration is a testament to AHF’s commitment to the national HIV/AIDS response and providing quality, patient-centred care to the communities we serve,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung, AHF Africa Bureau Chief. “However, these accomplishments and growth we have recorded in Eswatini would not be possible without the tireless efforts of our staff, the support from the Manzini Municipality, the patient community, and the collaborations with government and partners all these years, and for that, we are grateful.”
“Eswatini has made great strides towards eliminating HIV as public health threat by 2030, and we are proud as AHF to have been part of this in a major way,” added Dr Nkululeko Dube, Country Program Manager, AHF Eswatini. “Fifteen years of service later, this iconic building and Centre of Excellence is a recommitment to Keeping the Promise, and the spirit of partnership continues till this day, with Georgetown University committing to provide furniture, equipment, and an extra $5,000 for the new clinic.”
Although providing treatment was AHF Eswatini’s foremost priority, it has attained much more in over a decade. Highlights include taking over the Matsapha clinic in 2017 during MSF’s departure – saving 7,500 patients and about 40 jobs, opening a new LaMvelase wing in 2014 with extensive renovations to the tune of R2.5M (about $146.927) and implementing HIV prevention services, including condom promotion and distribution and men’s health and wellness awareness. AHF Eswatini also runs AHF’s transformative Girls Act program, which empowers young women and girls to thrive and stay healthy through information, education, services, and skills building; it is currently advocating for access to free sanitary pads for girls.