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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hope for Swaziland Families Affected by AIDS

The UMass Boston Student Nurses Association held an event to raise awareness on the impact AIDS has on the people of Swaziland, Africa, on October 8, 2008.

Pat Daoust-a former professor at UMB and now a Health Action AIDS Campaign Director who traveled to Swaziland-shared her experience with the crowd by showing a documentary by Jane Gillooly entitled “Today the Hawk Takes One Chick.” According to the documentary, the impact of AIDS is harsher in Swaziland than it is in South Africa because of limited government funding to fight the debilitating disease. The film makes evident how great poverty is in the South African country by equating federal money received for AIDS research and treatment to peanuts.

The film points out that grandmothers-also called gogos-are very important figures in Swazi culture because they are child caretakers. One gogo introduced in the documentary, Albertina, is a member of a Neighborhood Care Point, a government funded facility where children come to eat and be educated.

“When schools are closed, the children must stay with us,” she said. “The Neighborhood Care Point is not open on Saturday and Sunday so we don’t cook on those two days and the children don’t eat on those two days,” Albertina said.

Other gogos throughout the film agreed that it is a burden to have grandchildren because the gogos are children’s sole source of education and food. When one woman in the movie was shown pregnant with twins, the gogos said they perceived this to be more of a burden than a miracle.

The film went on to state that the first recorded case of AIDS in Swaziland was in 1986; over the next 20 years, the epidemic would spread to almost the entire population of the small state. Because Good Shepherd-the only hospital in Swaziland-may be too far for some people to seek treatment, gogos and nurses visit the homes of those in need of help.

In once instance in the film, Albertina treated a little girl with an ear infection. The remedy was to take tablets with food, a luxury not always available in times of severe poverty.

Another option, the film noted, is going to a hostel where 88% of the children are orphans. In these cases, children will do as they please and engage in risky behavior because there is no one to watch them. Due to the lack of sexual education in the country, young children will often give birth, spreading the AIDS epidemic further.

Gogos fear that the Swazi culture will eventually cease to exist because of no living offspring to pass traditions onto.

Albertina ends the film saying, “I don’t know the future. When I see all the children, I see [them] all HIV positive. They will marry HIV positive wives and men, and have HIV positive children.” One student compared the future of Swaziland to Peter Pan’s Neverland, where children run wild without parents and never grow up.

But to many in Swaziland, their painful reality is no fairytale.

Luckily it seems that there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. According to Daoust, seeing improvement with her own eyes lends her hope for the country. The Swazi people are getting more sexual education and have learned about condoms and other ways to prevent the spread of AIDS, she said.

Daoust said she hopes that UMB can start an international nursing exchange program so that UMB nursing students can go abroad and give healthcare to countries that need it most, like Swaziland.

Despite their injuries and diseases, Daoust said she saw tremendous joy in children and families when they were engaged in song and dance.