Swaziland currently finds itself in a critical stage of development. While celebrating 40 years of independence this year, we also remain wary of the significant challenges currently facing our nation; HIV and AIDS being the most notable among these challenges. Perhaps the world has never faced an epidemic with such broad influence and impact on human life. HIV is not just a health issue; it impinges upon seemingly distant societal corners, economic structures, and moral underpinnings. Such expansive influence demands an equally expansive response from those who wish to prevent the spread of HIV and care for people living with the virus.

HIV and AIDS Situation:

Conceivably more so in Swaziland than any other country, the spread of HIV demands urgent action among governmental and non-governmental agencies. This tiny kingdom gained some rather unfortunate global notoriety when it topped the list of countries with the highest rate of HIV infection in 2004. Indeed, the most recent study indicates that 39.2% of women tested positive for HIV at antenatal clinics, while 18.8% of the total population is considered to be “living positive”. Prevalence rates peak for women ages 25-29 at a shocking 48.9% HIV positive, while 44.9% of men ages 35-39 tested HIV positive. Overall, 2006 data from The World Bank indicates that 33.4% of the Swazi people ages 15-49 years are HIV positive. Considering several primary strengths, the Church in Swaziland is a critical institution to be involved in the prevention of HIV transmission, and the care and support of those affected by the epidemic. Key achievements:Over the several years of Church Forum activities, many key achievements strengthened the capacity of the church to respond to HIV. To name a few:

* In 2006, a number of church leaders were trained by The AIDS Information and Support Center (TASC) to become certified in Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) methods.

* Beginning in October of 2006 and continuing to date, the Pan-African Christian AIDS Network (PACANet) facilitated Managers Training workshops for representatives of various faith-based organizations (FBOs). The management training is focused on HIV/AIDS programs.

* The Church Forum on HIV and AIDS supports and facilitates the operations of more than 60 Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs) throughout Swaziland. Each of these NCPs strive to feed children who are orphaned and/or vulnerable in the community, but also to provide key elements of health monitoring, early childhood development and education, and psychosocial support. It is an enormous project on its own, and is also the Church Forum’s largest initiative in caring for those affected by HIV.

* Multiple representatives have completed similar HIV/AIDS program management courses through the Mananga Centre for Regional Integration and Management Development. These courses cover such topics as proposal writing and monitoring and evaluation skills.

* Youth community members have been trained on various occasions as peer educators, strengthening their abilities to prevent HIV within various communities. The Swaziland Church Forum is an important thread in the fabric of organizations offering a holistic response. Churches are intimately connected with urban and rural communities in Swaziland to the degree that Christian institutions possibly sponsor the most direct and consistent communication with the Swazi people. Not only do Churches provide a fantastic outlet for information, advocacy, and encouragement, but caring for those affected by HIV and AIDS aligns with the central mandates of the Christian faith; to love one another.

In light of these factors, the Church Forum believes that churches are capable of playing a momentous role in addressing the widespread affects of HIV. That belief is one of the foundations of this organization.