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Swazis ‘Walk the Nation’ to support HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention

© UNICEF Swaziland/2008/Diller
Swazi Prime Minister Themba Dlamini, wearing an FC Barcelona jersey with the UNICEF logo, passes the ‘Walk the Nation’ torch.

MANKAYANE, Swaziland, 14 March 2008 – Andreas Simelane, at 63, was the oldest amongst the nearly 2,000 participants in ‘Walk the Nation’, a 12-day journey across the tiny mountain Kingdom of Swaziland. Carried out in hopes of spreading a message of hope, awareness and dignity for people living with HIV and AIDS, the walk concluded yesterday.

“Since I tested positive, I decided I’m not going to give up,” said Mr. Simelane, who has been living with HIV for several years. “I must join this to show that I’m with the nation in the fight against this pandemic, that everyone of my age must stand up and walk and fight this disease.”

About 100 ‘nation walkers’ marched the entire 200 km from the Swazi border with Mozambique to the border with South Africa. They were supported at various stages by increasing numbers of eager participants, and attracted nearly 7,000 people to related events along the way. The events focused on promoting HIV prevention and counselling, as well as voluntary HIV testing.

The trek took walkers through mainly rural areas, where few are educated about AIDS despite high rates of infection. At local stops, 158 people came out to educate themselves and find out their HIV status. 

© UNICEF Swaziland/2008/Diller
UNICEF staff members take turns holding the torch that burned throughout the 12-day ‘Walk the Nation’ event in Swaziland.

An overwhelming reality

As the march passed through the small town of Mankayane, the stark reality of the disease was all too evident at the local hospital. Wards were packed, and shortages of medical personnel made it impossible to cope with the influx of so many in dire need.

Staff nurse Doris Shabangu confirmed that a large majority of the patients are patients suffering from AIDS-related illnesses. “Even our wards, they become congested so that sometimes we don’t even have the space to keep them,” she said.

At more than 33 per cent of the population, Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate and faces an uphill battle for the survival of those affected. But hope is reflected in the eagerness of the country’s youth; 85 per cent of those who completed the entire ‘Walk the Nation’ route were under the age of 25.

A step in the right direction

Planned and coordinated by the US Peace Corps in partnership with UNICEF and 18 other organizations, the walk attracted people of all ages and from all segments of society. Television and radio stations tracked their progress and mirrored the message of the walkers, who emphasized a different theme each day.

Just as he had kicked off the walk on 2 March, Swazi Prime Minister Themba Dlamini was on hand at its conclusion, extinguishing the torch that had been passed from community to community, and from border to border.

The Kingdom of Swaziland may still have a long way to go in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but ‘Walk the Nation’ was a step in the right direction.




2 March 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on Swaziland's 'Walk the Nation' trek to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.
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