Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Foreign Policy

12 July 2011


The first shock for visitors to Swaziland is how beautiful it is. Most of the year, the high-veld areas sport endless green mountains with scattered homesteads and roaming cows and goats. There is no such thing as a bad view in Swaziland. Nearly every home, outside the few small bustling areas, is the beginning and end to a private hike that can go on for hours. Watering holes and waterfalls tend to be hidden, rather than pointed to by arrows and neon signs, and provide a perfect place to have a romantic picnic or quiet game of Scrabble.

The second shock is the quietness of its HIV epidemic. Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, with nearly a fifth of the population infected. The per capita numbers dwarf even other highly affected sub-Saharan countries such as South Africa and Botswana. One might expect HIV to slap you in the face. But there are no buildings collapsed by an HIV earthquake, no towns flooded by an HIV tsunami. No zombie-sick people dripping HIV from their eyeballs. You don't see obvious signs of it outside of the clinics and hospitals or the privacy of homesteads.

And though it is a subtle emergency, everyone in Swaziland is aware of HIV, and those who were born with the virus have to prepare for a lifetime of being positive. At mass HIV-testing sessions run by the charity Young Heroes and held throughout Swaziland, children stand in a tight formation, shoulder to shoulder in two parallel lines facing one another. A game leader hands a tennis ball to one side, and the children pass it hand to hand behind their backs. Once time is called, the opposite line must guess where the ball is. Only rarely does a smirk or dropped ball give its location away. The ball represents HIV. Anyone can have it, but you will rarely know for certain even with a deep stare at the surface.

To read the full article in Foreign Policy, click here.

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