According to the World Health Organization, 38.6 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV or AIDS, and 220,000 of them live in Swaziland. With an official infection rate of 42.6% among pregnant women and 26% among all productive adults, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world. The epidemic has overburdened the country’s health system, crippled its economy, created a shortage of teachers in all levels of education, and thwarted all aspects of Swaziland’s development. It is estimated in the last Household Income and Expenditure survey that 69% of the population live below the poverty line, with an estimated 37% in extreme poverty. In Swaziland, everyone, positive or negative, has been hurt by HIV/AIDS.
Unfortunately, Swaziland’s children are no exception. By 2007, 31.3% of all children in Swaziland had lost one or both of their parents to AIDS, with a disproportionate number of these orphans living in the Shiselweni Region. The numbers are devastating, but what does it really mean?
Before the scourge of HIV/AIDS, orphaned children would be cared for by uncles, aunts or grandparents, but now even the extended family is suffering from HIV. In the Shiselweni region, over half of all homesteads are currently caring for at least one orphan of AIDS, but this arrangement is neither ideal nor permanent. Many homesteads lack the food or other resources to care for these additional children, particularly if the orphans are also sick with HIV. Many cannot afford to send these orphaned children to school. Even worse, many children are shuffled from one homestead to the next as their aunt, uncle, grandmother or neighbour also dies of AIDS, eventually leaving them with nowhere to turn. Child headed homesteads are in on the increase as children lose their parents to HIV/AIDS. These children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Since first opening its doors in 2003, Pasture Valley Children’s Home has provided a permanent, loving home for a small number of Swaziland’s orphaned and vulnerable children. While this does little to improve the overall situation in Swaziland, the Children’s Home has given these children a healthier, more certain future.