By Michael Craske
Twenty thousand people are dying of AIDS-related illnesses every year in Swaziland. National life-expectancy is to drop to just 27 from 62 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.
The statistics were given by a representative from the single-diocese country last month in Nairobi during an interview with ACNS. Mrs Veronica 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 Mrs Maziya. “HIV has destroyed our youth and the future. We have been left with an orphaned country. We face a tragedy beyond comprehension.”
Of the country’s one million population, 500,000 are under 15 years of age. Of the remaining half million, 200,000 are 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 Swaziland lives below the poverty-line, currently set at $8.50 per month.
She 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 said. “Because of the lack of hospital beds, we also need to encourage a large support network that cares for the sick in their homes. 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 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,” it states, 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.
“In order to relieve the HIV/AIDS situation, we must get people out of poverty, and that means giving them back hope,” said Mrs Maziya, adding that the 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.”
The diocese has 21 parishes, 30 clergy, and 82 congregations. The Anglican Church in Swaziland was founded in 1871 and until 1986 was incorporated as the Diocese of Zululand and Swaziland. It is an integral part of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. The current Bishop is the Rt Revd Meshack Mabuza.
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