Commander General UEDF Mashikilisane Fakudze lights a candle as a symbolic gesture signaling UEDF’s commitment to ending HIV and AIDS within its units. Photo credit: URC

The DoD Eswatini URC Project recently commemorated World AIDS Day together with Eswatini’s military, the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force (UEDF), in a well-attended and publicized public event at the Zombodze Military Police Unit. The event was made possible through PEPFAR DoD funding support.

The impressive participation of UEDF and Eswatini Ministry of Health leadership in the November 14 event garnered broad public engagement. Together with the other organizers, URC recognized UEDF for its leadership in Eswatini’s HIV and AIDS progress.

The event raised awareness about the availability of prevention, testing, and treatment resources. During the event, UEDF also sensitized the public to stigma related to HIV and AIDS, voicing its commitment to ending inequalities in access to services.

High Spirits and High Hopes

Crowds gathered along the streets as the event kicked off with pomp and ceremony. A military band sang songs as participating service members marched a four kilometer route towards the main event area at Zombodze where banners flew high with this year’s World AIDS Day theme: “Eswatini Leading to End AIDS.”

UEDF officers and other stakeholders kick off the World AIDS Day Commemoration with a four kilometer march. Photo credit: URC

A Show of Force in UEDF’s Fight Against HIV and AIDS

A robust partnership was in attendance, represented by other Government of Eswatini ministries, foreign government partners, nongovernmental partners, and community service organizations. The broad engagement in the event was a testament to UEDF’s leadership in addressing HIV and AIDS within the military with broad support in implementing a unified strategy.

Commander General UEDF Mashikilisane Fakudze with the U.S. Ambassador Chargée d’Affaires Caitlin Piper and other high-level guests at the UEDF World AIDS Day Commemoration. Photo credit: URC

Maximizing Impact with Onsite Education and Service Provision

Information stalls were set up to provide educational materials and access to HIV services including testing, preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and condoms, noncommunicable disease (NCD) screening, and emergency care. Together with the Army Commander, delegates toured the stalls asking questions about the services offered.

A resounding theme echoed across all the booths – seek prompt treatment and care and continue to attend care. UEDF clarified that military clinics do not discriminate; they offer services to all population.

The military band and other entertainers performing cultural dances echoed messages about HIV prevention, screening, testing, treatment, and the need to end gender-based violence.

Delegates listen attentively to a medic officer responding to a question as they toured the stalls. Photo credit: URC

Recognizing UEDF Achievements

Speakers were unified in praising the military for being ahead on many fronts tackling the HIV epidemic. The PEPFAR DoD program manager shared their appreciation for the collaboration with UEDF. He highlighted achievements made through the partnership, including the completion of infrastructure improvements and site monitoring systems. He also emphasized the role of stakeholder engagement and feedback in improving the quality of care in military clinics. The Commander General UEDF shared his gratitude for the ongoing partnership between the military and the U.S. Government through PEPFAR DoD, and the technical and direct service delivery support provided by URC as their implementing partner.

Commitment by the Commander General UEDF and Unit Commanding Officers

The Commander General UEDF led a candle lighting session as part of the tradition to commit to fighting HIV and AIDS in Eswatini. All the unit commanding officers followed suit, lighting candles as a commitment to lead their units’ efforts to end HIV and AIDS through active engagement of the military on HIV, AIDS, NCDs, GBV, and other health issues.

The Commander General UEDF mentioned that the military has seen almost zero deaths from HIV – a great improvement attributed to the wide availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART).

As the unit commanding officers carry the World AIDS Day messages forward, URC will continue to work with them to support troop education, behavior change, and service uptake related to HIV and AIDS.