Using Health Communication to Fight Swaziland’s HIV Crisis

Since early 2013, the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) has been working in Swaziland on a variety of efforts to reduce the impact of HIV. A newly released multimedia resource highlights three of the activities that HC3 Swaziland has been leading to help mitigate the effects of HIV in the country. These include:

  • Working with traditional leaders and their spouses
  • Creating safe spaces and empowering young women under PEPFAR’s DREAMS initiative
  • Providing health services and support to key populations (KP)

Read more about HC3 Swaziland’s HIV-mitigation activities here.

HC3’s work in Swaziland is responding to the country’s burgeoning HIV epidemic by building capacity and conducting community based programming. Swaziland is battling a severe HIV epidemic, affecting all aspects of its society and economy. With 31% of 18 – 49 year-olds infected with HIV, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. HC3’s goal in Swaziland is to strengthen the capacity of national and regional coordination, local implementers and communities to prevent HIV through a community-led and owned process. HC3 Swaziland is doing this through a number of activities:

  • Model Communities
  • Community leader engagement and training to support adolescent girls and young women
  • Young women empowerment and savings clubs
  • Key population programming and service delivery

Model Communities

HC3 Swaziland is currently working in two communities that serve as a model for the community engagement process. To initiate the community entry process, the HC3 team held a series of meetings to understand the landscape, orient stakeholders to HC3, and build rapport and collaborative relationships with key stakeholders. Orientation sessions were conducted with regional and community leaders. Working in groups, a community engagement process was followed with community members representing a diverse range of interests. These groups implement the Community Engagement (CE) Guidelines developed by local government and partners along with technical expertise from HC3. The framework recognizes that community engagement is a capacity strengthening process rather than a single event. The guidelines support the national strategy for all partners entering and working with communities.

Community Leader Engagement and Training

As part of the DREAMS initiative, HC3 Swaziland is working with community leaders in 19 Tinkhundla to provide information and training for supporting adolescent girls and young women. Community leaders include chiefs and their wives, inner council members, religious leaders, school leaders and other influential members of the community. Trainings include general HIV information, highlight the vulnerabilities that young women face, and encourage leaders to support them through concrete actions. Leaders then develop action plans for their communities to address factors such as gender based violence and report back on their progress.

Young Women Empowerment and Savings Clubs

Another activity being conducted under PEPFAR’s DREAMS initiative is financial literacy and savings and loans groups for young women ages 20-24. HC3 Swaziland trained young women mentors to lead clubs that meet weekly. The first half of the club includes interactive learning activities focusing on financial literacy, HIV, risk reduction, family planning and pregnancy, gender based violence, communication and decision making.

Key Populations

HC3 Swaziland is also working with key populations to reduce discrimination toward female sex workers (FSW) and men who have sex with men (MSM) by service providers as well as improve access to HIV services. HC3 works with the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) to provide mobile services to KP in hot spots across the country. HIV testing and CD4 counts are provided as well as psychosocial counseling and support and referrals to clinics where staff have been trained in providing supportive and non-judgmental services to KP. HC3 also partners with the Royal Swazi Police to reduce the harassment and violence many KP experience by the police. Meetings with the police commissioner and training sessions for police senior management have led to a better understanding of KP needs and commitment to train additional staff and bring change.