More than 200,000 people are living with HIV out of the country’s population of 1.1 million, and approximately 17,000 children are exposed to HIV infection at birth annually.
The impact of HIV and AIDS has led to the disruption and destabilization of families and communal support systems and a dramatic increase in the number of vulnerable children and child headed households; with the impact on households often leading to disintegration as assets are depleted to cover medical and burial costs.
In Swaziland, as in many African countries, women are the backbone of the communities; they maintain the household, generate income, and shoulder the burden of caring for sick family members. This stabilizing role played by women is fast eroding as the HIV pandemic takes its toll. Women between the ages of 15 and 49 are reported to constitute more than half of all infections.
National estimates indicate that there are presently about 130,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland. These children are either HIV infected or have parents who are so ill or destitute that the children need support and protection provided by the community or Government. The number of orphans is projected to double by 2010.
UNICEF-Swaziland recognizes children and HIV as the main challenges of the 2006-2010 Country Programme. Working closely with government, NGOs, other United Nations Agencies and private sector partners, UNICEF is focusing on women and families; preventing mother-to-child transmission; reducing new infections among young people; and mitigating the impact of HIV on children.
Prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) has been identified as a viable intervention to reduce new infections. Under the PMTCT and Paediatric AIDS Project, UNICEF aims at reducing new HIV infections in children; preventing HIV infection among young women; preventing unwanted pregnancy among HIV infected women; and providing care treatment for HIV/AIDS infected women, children and families by:
- scaling up HIV testing and counseling services to all government health facilities and 50 percent of private maternity clinics by early 2008;
- building capacity of clinical staff to provide care and treatment to HIV infected pregnant women and exposed children;
- providing improved access, nutritional and psychosocial support for HIV infected mothers and exposed children.