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Swaziland - Military Personnel

The Umbutfo Swaziland Defense Force (USDF) is estimated at approximately 3500 members. Army leadership was initially provided by middle-aged Swazis who served in noncombatant status in the British Army during World War II, and the typical volunteer was a barely literate rural youth. The Tinkhundla concept of government has its roots in the Second World War, led by Prince Dabede of Gundvwini Royal Residence and Ndvuna Mfundza John Brightwell Sukati of Zabeni Royal Residence. Veteran Swazi Soldiers, who came back in 1945 to 1946 from the Middle East, spent sometime with His Majesty King Sobhuza II relating their experiences gained along the sea shores of the African Continent during the British Military campaign from the Durban Sea Port to Tripoli in North Africa. They recommended that in order for the economy of Swaziland to recover from ravages of the war, community centers (Tinkhundla) should be established and rally support for the King’s endeavors to bring about proportional development of the country. Also this would strengthen and enhance national safety and security strategies.

Military training is designed to mould individuals into tough soldiers who can endure extremely stressful conditions during their tours of duty. Militaries are therefore interested in recruiting, rigorously training and retaining battle-ready and omni-deployable men and women.

No HIV prevalence data are currently available for USDF members. The humane approach that guided commanders was to not replace seriously sick soldiers and only to do so when they actually died. In other words, units were, and have been, forced to keep sick persons on their books in the forlorn hope that they might recover and return to duty.

Swazi soldiers, as is the case with other soldiers in Africa and other parts of the world, are constantly in contact with poor communities. The soldiers enjoy a steady income, which attracts members of the communities in which they live. A 2000 report brought to the attention of USDF commanders noted that young civilian unemployed women in poverty-stricken areas were agreeing to sex with members of the USDF without the use of condoms and in exchange for food.

This phenomenon faces most poor African countries, including Swaziland, that have been ravaged by drought, floods or lack of infrastructure and that have experienced widespread food insecurity. Similar conditions may be extrapolated to peacekeeping missions, where military camps and their surroundings become islands of stability and food as well as sexual networks.

Swazi soldiers are at a higher risk of HIV infection than the general public, the Swaziland Defence Ministry said in a report on the soldiers' performance submitted to parliamentin April 2004. According to the report, this knowledge has resulted in the army spending over US$80,000 (E512,000) to buy HIV/AIDS drugs. The amount was spent on drugs and medication for various diseases, including HIV-AIDS drugs.

The document states that reports and studies have shown that military personnel are at a very high risk of HIV infection. "Reports and studies have shown that military personnel are at a high risk of HIV infection and sexually transmitted infections than the general population," it says. "This is due to the nature of their work. Being socially isolated for long periods, they develop high-risk behaviour that is fuelled by peer pressure to engage in unprotected sex.

In December 2004 the Swazi army unveiled a new policy that rejects HIV-positive recruits, while acknowledging that its ranks of enlisted men and officers have been badly affected by the disease. "The army is experiencing a rise in HIV/AIDS-related illnesses and deaths, and this has adverse effects on its overall mission and preparedness, and may eventually lead to insecurity in the country," stated the policy document of the national Umbutfo Royal Defence Force (URDF).

A spokesman told a press conference at the defence force headquarters in Bethany, 20 km east of the capital, Mbabane, that all personnel would undergo blood testing for HIV; pilots, aircraft engineers and air traffic controllers found to be HIV positive would be relieved of their duties. Counselling is to be provided to those undergoing HIV tests and only recruits found to be HIV negative would be allowed to join the defence force.

"Military training is designed to mould individuals into tough soldiers who can endure extremely stressful conditions during their tour of duty. The high level of HIV/AIDS in the military can undermine its effectiveness. The most potent way to avert the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS is to act before the epidemic spins out of control," the policy asserts.

In a statement accompanying the report, Army Commander Major General Sobantu Dlamini said: "We, as a military force, need to address the HIV/AIDS stigma within the military through mass media information programmes or workshops on misconceptions, cultural norms, beliefs, customs and taboos on HIV/AIDS. We need to conduct advocacy activities on HIV/AIDS-related issues by sensitising the soldiers at the lower level."

Swaziland has surpassed Botswana as the country with the world’s highest known rates of HIV/AIDS infection. The HIV prevalence rate in the Swaziland general population is estimated at 33.4%, resulting in approximately 220,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS. The primary identified risk factors in the population are high mobility, high-risk heterosexual contact with multiple partners and commercial sex workers, gender inequity, and high incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Peak prevalence among women stands at a staggering 54 percent in the 30-34 age group. In 2009, the U.S. and Swaziland signed the second-ever Partnership Framework Agreement under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The agreement is a five-year joint program strategy to strengthen, scale up, and sustain key components of the HIV response and the overall health sector capacity.

The Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland (GOKS) has established clear national priorities and strategies to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic within its borders through its recently revised National Strategic Framework (NSF) (2009-2014). Through The United States President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. Government (USG) and its partners are supporting Swaziland to implement its NSF by providing technical expertise and financial support.

The 2006-07 Demographic and Health Survey (the first national survey in Swaziland to include HIV testing) estimated that 25.9 percent of the population age 15-49 is living with HIV/AIDS (31.1 percent of women and 19.7 percent of men). This constitutes the highest prevalence rate in the world. With an estimated 80 percent TB/HIV co-infection rate, Swaziland also has the highest tuberculosis rate in the world. An estimated 110,000 children are orphans, many of them because AIDS has claimed one or both parents. By the end of 2010, this number is projected to rise above 120,000.

In 1999 King Mswati III declared HIV/AIDS a national emergency. The GKOS established the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) to coordinate multi-sectoral HIV programs, has a National HIV/AIDS policy, and updates its HIV strategy every three years. The GKOS provides anti-retroviral drugs free to approximately 30,000 Swazis. However, due to the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, many Swazis refuse to be HIV tested for fear of rejection by family and friends, loss of employment, and possible eviction from property.

Most of the effort and money expended to fight HIV/AIDS in Swaziland comes from external donors, particularly the United States Government and the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (funded approximately 30 percent by the USG).

In the six years 2004-2010, the amount of USG aid allocated to HIV/AIDS- related programs in Swaziland increased from about 250,000 to 30 million U.S. dollars. PEPFAR funds support national prevention efforts such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission, behavior change communication programs, male circumcision, and others. The PEPFAR program also supports expanded access to HIV counseling and testing, improved availability of laboratory services, and strengthening of a national supply chain and drug management system, which are all essential for enhancing the quality and scale-up of a holistic and integrated HIV/AIDS and TB care and treatment service. PEPFAR provides institutional and human capacity building to address the serious human resource crisis that exists in both the public and private sectors, and supports multiple strategic information interventions to better report and understand the full impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

As part of the PEPFAR program, the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored a considerable intervention on HIV/AIDS prevention in the workplace, and for orphan and vulnerable children, from 2004-2008. The U.S. Department of Defense, through its military-to-military program, has supported the establishment of the Swaziland Uniformed Services HIV/AIDS Alliance (SUSAH). It provided HIV/AIDS and TB prevention, care and treatment, strategic information, and health systems strengthening not only to the USDF, but also correctional and security services.

The Peace Corps returned to Swaziland in 2003, at the invitation of the GKOS, specifically to provide interventions and education on HIV/AIDS. The Peace Corps Volunteers - 64 in Swaziland as of 2010 - educate school children, youth, and their communities about HIV and its prevention, encourage Swazis to get HIV tested, promote access to care and treatment and good nutrition for AIDS sufferers, conduct life skill workshops and youth camps specifically urging youth to delay the initiation of sexual activity, and train community leaders about HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation. Much of this activity is also funded by PEPFAR. Peace Corps plans include increased movement into the education system, with additional volunteers.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:13 ZULU