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Sunday 18 December 2005
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SWAZILAND: Top officials of trade unions publicly tested for HIV


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  IRIN

Swaziland SFTU secretary-general Jan Sithole

MBABANE, 4 February (PLUSNEWS) - In a move considered to be a breakthrough in the conservative kingdom of Swaziland, the secretary general of each of the two trade union federations publicly took an HIV test on Friday.

Jan Sithole of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and Vincent Ncongwane of the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) are the highest ranking public or government officials to take these tests in the country with the world's highest HIV prevalence rate.

"I wish to send a message to all leaders in Swaziland, particularly traditional leaders, but also religious leaders, government leaders and business leaders, to take these tests, and to encourage their constituents to do so," Sithole told PlusNews.

At a conference on HIV/AIDS at the Matsapha Industrial Estate, 30 km east of Manzini, the country's second city, Sithole chose to take a rapid test - and was found to be HIV negative. The SFL's Ncongwane also tested HIV-negative.

"I wanted to show how easy the new technology makes taking these tests - within 20 minutes I knew my HIV status. I let the Swazi media photograph the test card for broadcast on government TV on Friday night, and for the daily newspapers Saturday," he explained.

Sithole encouraged prominent Swazis and leaders to help reduce the stigma associated with HIV testing by coming forward to be tested in public.

Health workers at the conference applauded the strategy. "Most people think because you take a test, it is because you are already HIV positive and you want confirmation," said Agnes Kunene, a local nurse.

Nevertheless, most people should take the test privately to protect their right to confidentiality, Sithole noted. He admitted that widespread stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive Swazis was still a problem.

Traditional leaders should also agree to public testing, he said, as traditional society resisted dealing openly with HIV/AIDS.

Speakers at the conference bemoaned the continuing superstition surrounding the epidemic, including the belief that sleeping with a virgin could cure HIV/AIDS and purge the body of the HI virus.

"It is a form of what sociologists call 'sympathetic magic' - a belief that like produces like. If 'bad blood' acquired by having sex produced AIDS, then 'pure blood' from a virgin during sex will be a curative," said one speaker.

The conference, organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), drew representatives from workers' unions in manufacturing, financial institutions and agricultural plantations.

Although the agricultural and manufacturing sectors have been hardest hit by Swaziland's HIV prevalence rate of 36.8 percent, conference delegates were told that skilled professionals and managers were also succumbing to AIDS, exacting a heavy toll on businesses.

[ENDS]




 
Recent SWAZILAND Reports
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
Hospitals run out of ARVs,  18/Nov/05
Country's first urban OVC care centre rising to the needs,  15/Nov/05
New law says death to child rapists in fight against AIDS,  9/Nov/05
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