Honorable Minister of Tinkhundla;
Your Royal Highnesses;
Senior Representative from the Ministry of Health;
Senior Officers of Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland;
Ladies and gentlemen –
Over the past nine months, the U.S. government, through HC3, has helped to pilot a performance-based support program for select Chiefdoms across the four regions. This program, called the “game changer,” provided traditional leaders and community development committees with the tools to plan their HIV response, set their own HIV prevention and service uptake targets, and track their progress. Moreover, there was a deliberate focus on engaging men in the response, who represent the global missing link in the fight against HIV.
Today, we recognize ten of these Chiefdoms that have met and exceeded their expected results. Your coordinated actions have signaled to your communities that keeping them healthy is the top priority. And with the handover of this computer equipment, we are confident that this type of technological support will assist your communities in their work to confront the HIV epidemic through more consistent tracking.
As you are aware, Honorable Minister, since 2014, our PEPFAR program, through USAID’s partner HC3, has been working alongside the Ministry of Tinkhundla, the Ministry of Health, and NERCHA to reinforce the capacity of traditional leaders to reduce the impact of HIV in their own communities. We know that your communities were on the front lines when the crisis first started – and you are now at the helm of implementing an effective response. This is no small task; therefore, we are more than appreciative of your steady collaboration and partnership.
At the community level, the U.S. government and the Tinkundla system are aligned to create a protective environment for adolescent girls and to improve access to HIV services including testing, treatment, and voluntary medical male circumcision for rural communities. Our assistance has provided skills and tools for Chiefs, their wives, inner councils, and community members to coordinate their collective response to HIV in their own communities.
We applaud the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland for its unwavering commitment to halt the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland, and especially for the focus on engaging men, which can ultimately help reduce the impact of HIV on families, adolescent girls, and young women. We know from experience that when communities lead and develop their own plans, and when partners and governments support them, we can have substantial public health impacts.
I want to conclude with a quote from former U.S. First Lady and famed human rights activist, Eleanor Roosevelt. She said, “to handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” As community leaders, you have a special responsibility to think broadly about what is best for those in your care.
You are faced daily with difficult decisions, scarce resources, and limited time to do it all. Yet, when you prioritize the health of Swazi citizens, you are leading with your head and your heart. To address Swaziland’s health challenges requires a potent mix of empathy, information, and fortitude. Fulfilling His Majesty the King’s vision of an AIDS Free Generation by 2022 rests with ordinary people who are willing to step up and lead the way. Thank you for being those trailblazers.