- The crisis in Swaziland, caused by HIV/AIDS and years of drought, is now "beyond comprehension," the Anglican Church in the country decries. As life expectancy is halved, an entire generation of orphans is growing up and the Swazi government remains inactive, the Church has become the only hope for many Swazis.
Veronica Maziya, representative of the Swaziland diocese of the Anglican Church, has presented statistics and eyewitness accounts of the devastation facing the country while meeting Church colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya. Describing the extent of the Swazi "tragedy", Ms Maziya opened the eyes of her colleagues.
Some 20,000 people are dying of AIDS-related illnesses every year in Swaziland, Ms Maziya told the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS). National life-expectancy was expected to drop from 62 years to just 27 years by 2010. The most productive section of society - around 30 years old - has effectively been wiped out, wrecking the country, which has already been crippled by drought and economic disintegration.
Ms Maziya spoke of the devastation, "grief and agony" that HIV/AIDS was causing in Swaziland, how the Anglican Church was attempting to relieve its suffering, and called for worldwide Communion prayer to support Church efforts and bring the crisis to an end. "The situation is a disaster for Swaziland," said Ms Maziya. "HIV has destroyed our youth and the future. We have been left with an orphaned country. We face a tragedy beyond comprehension."
The UN recently announced that Swaziland had surpassed Botswana and become the country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world. According to Ms Maziya, of Swaziland's one million population, 500,000 are under 15 years of age. Of the remaining half million, 200,000 are HIV infected.
The chance of a 15-year-old reaching the age of 35 is only 10 percent. More than 5,500 homes are now headed by orphans - with an average of age of 11. "The situation is amplified by the fact that there are only 2,000 hospital beds in the country," she continued. "And as there is no social welfare system, very few can afford treatment." More than 50 percent of the Swazi population lives below the poverty-line, currently set at US$ 8.50 per month.
However, Ms Maziya also said that the Church of Swaziland - a diocese of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa - had a programme to combat HIV/AIDS but that it desperately needed support. "The basis of our programme is Biblical authority to teach sexual morality, and from that we have a strategy to promote education and counselling," she explained.
- Because of the lack of hospital beds, we also need to encourage a large support network that cares for the sick in their homes, said Ms Maziya. "In this way we also pray that it will have a positive impact on people's attitudes to the disease, so there is understanding of how it is transmitted and how people can prevent its spread."
In recent years, the Church's work has been challenged by continuing droughts - which have affected a large part of Southern Africa - and as the disease claims more lives people have become poorer. "The country is so destitute that any money people have is swallowed up on treatment. Also, as the productive capacity of the population has plummeted the cost of living has soared. There is now no investment in Swaziland."
The Anglican Church representative did not state any direct critics against the Swazi authorities, headed by Africa's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III. The national opposition and the international community has however been strongly critical to how the King has met the growing crisis in the country, contrasted by his personal spending on luxury items.
Government policies to meet the AIDS crisis have mostly been based on traditional practices, for example banning unmarried women - not men - from being sexually active. The lacking government HIV/AIDS policy has led people to seek help from humanitarian organisations and the Church.
Also the Anglican Diocese of Swaziland recently issued a mission statement on its strategy against the disease, which highlights that poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS are inseparable issues, and that the care of the sick and their families must be implemented within a much wider task of pastoral care.
- We ... care for, support, and treat with dignity those who are infected or affected and their families, and to equip with information those uninfected to remain uninfected," the Church's statement says, emphasising that through pastoral care - including the ministering to the dying - it will encourage a fuller appreciation of the Christian spirit in Swaziland's communities, acting as a form of mission and evangelism to its population.
Ms Maziya elaborated on the policy while in Kenya. "In order to relieve the HIV/AIDS situation, we must get people out of poverty, and that means giving them back hope," she said, adding that the Swazi diocese needed the prayers of everyone in the Anglican Communion. "I call for everyone worldwide throughout the Communion to pray for Swaziland, for its people, and the work of its church."
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