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CONDOM NATION - Life in Swaziland in the Era of HIV

Mike Kear | Swaziland

T-shirts, as worn by the team from Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) at the Road Show in Matata - a day of music, live entertainment and education.

“Condom Nation" reads the slogan used on the T-shirts of pier educators at the Matata Road Show, a day of music, celebration and education. HIV transmission has so many complexities and the message of condom use does not provide a complete solution. I was keen to explore the stories of those affected by HIV in Swaziland, a unique country in many ways, being the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa and having the highest prevalence of HIV in the world: more than one adult in every four is infected with the virus.
Family structures are multifarios and often complicated. The King has fourteen wives, polygamy is widespread and men often have several girlfriends as well as being married. With over 40% unemployment and issues with inward investment and governance, over 80% of the people who need antiretroviral medication are getting it. This is an extraordinary achievement.

In Condom Nation I hope to show the story of a nation managing and learning against the odds. The stories of family life portray the people behind the challenging but changing HIV epidemic. Antiretroviral drugs have given Swaziland a pause, a chance to move beyond AIDS and death, an opportunity to conquer the virus and work out how the nation - the kingdom - can thrive. 

My practice includes work for charities and NGOs as well as personal project work. Previous projects have explored the urban landscape and how people interact, relate and make use of it, often with themes relating to water and rivers. After eight years of working as a freelance photographer, I recently completed a Masters degree in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at the London College of Communication. I am particularly drawn to contemporary social issues including HIV/AIDS and my work has recently started to look at the physical and non physical boundaries we construct and the interconnectivity between different communities.

 

 

Information and statistics for the book have been drawn from the following documents:


Swaziland: Southern Africa’s Forgotten Crisis - Christopher Vandom, Alex Vines and Markus Weimer. Chatham House, September 2013.

Swaziland Country Report on Monitoring the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. UNAIDS, March 2012.

Swaziland : Monitoring the situation of children, women and men. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010 Final Report. December 2011.

Swaziland Millennium Development Goals - Progress Report. Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, September 2012.

Love and Death in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Glenn Alan Cheney, May 2012.

Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) have clinics in Manzini and Mbabane   www.flas.org.sz   Tel: +268 2505 3082.

 

Cabrini Ministries, St Phillips   www.cabriniministries.org   Tel: +268 2343 4944.

 

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) 4 Newhams Row, London, SE1 3UZ   www.ippf.org   Tel: +44 (0)20 7939 8228| Fax +44 20 7939 8300

Mike Kear

mike@mikekear.com

+44 7753 930678

"Condom Nation" reads the slogan used on the T-shirts of volunteers and pier educators at the Matata Road Show, a day of music, celebration and education in the Lubombo region of Swaziland. If only the problem of HIV could be solved in such a straight forward way and everyone used a condom each time they have sex. But the problem of HIV transmission has so many complexities and the message of condom use does not provide a complete solution. I was keen to explore the stories of those affected by HIV in Swaziland, a unique country in many ways, being the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa and having the highest prevalence of HIV in the world: more than one adult in every four is infected with the virus.

Family structures are multifarios and often life in the homestead is complicated. A single compound can be home to large numbers of children that are related to one another through one parent but not both; absent parents are a norm. Men have far more power than women, and the culture provides little space to people who are anything but heterosexual. Formal polygamy is now on the decline but 45 year-old King Mswati III has fourteen wives and is soon to marry a 15th. It is widely accepted that men will have several girlfriends at the same time as an officially sanctioned wife.

Though HIV continues to spread, over 80% of the people who need medication to control their infection are getting it. That’s an extraordinary achievement in a country of 1.2 million people where 40% of adults are unemployed, where foreign investment is minimal and where personal freedoms are limited by a government appointed by the King. With Condom Nation I hope to show the story of a nation managing and learning against the odds. The stories of family life portray the people behind the challenging but changing HIV epidemic. Antiretroviral drugs have given Swaziland a pause, a chance to move beyond AIDS and death, an opportunity to conquer the virus and work out how the nation - the kingdom - can thrive.

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