You need a heart as big as the ocean,
” says Portia Dube, the teacher and care giver at the Mangwaneni Center for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in the Swazi capital.
“We teach them, we feed them and care for them Monday through Friday,” she says. “We prepare the young ones to begin school and we send the really sick ones to the clinic so they can get better treatment.”
Some 230 children attend the Mangwaneni center, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic poses a severe development challenge to Swaziland. It has become a national crisis that is being dealt with as a national emergency. The small, landlocked, mountain kingdom that shares borders with South Africa and Mozambique has fewer than one million people, with the population declining.
Derek von Wissell, the director of the country’s National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), says Swazi society has transformed.
“We have the highest HIV rate in the world. An estimated 16,000 people die as a result of HIV each year - that is 45 people each day. Life expectancy has dropped from nearly 60 years old in the 1990s to just over 30 years today. Each weekend people are buried. Too many households care for someone who is sick.”
According to World Bank Country Director for Swaziland Ritva Reinikka, the Bank is broadening its engagement with the Swazi government.
“ Swaziland’s HIV/AIDS pandemic poses a severe development challenge as it devastates society,” Reinikka said. “The classification as a Lower Middle Income Country masks severe poverty and inequity and poses a major problem as it implies IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) status.”
For operational and analytical purposes the World Bank’s main criterion for classifying economies is gross national income (GNI) per capita. Every economy is classified as low income, middle income (subdivided into lower middle and upper middle), or high income.
Low-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of $875 or less in 2005. Middle-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of more than $875 but less than $10,726. Lower middle-income and upper middle-income economies are separated at a GNI per capita of $3,465. High-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of $10,726 or more.
According to Reinikka, government agencies, civil society and development partners have issued a strong appeal to the Bank to be flexible and innovative in its support and to treat Swaziland as a special case.
“The World Bank is now developing an Interim Strategy Note for the country to govern our relationship with active participation from government and other stakeholders,” she said. “The ISN will present a two-year program of support tailored to the particular circumstances of Swaziland.”
At the Mangwaneni Center, Dube is just one of many involved in giving care to thousands of children who are orphaned and vulnerable -- mostly due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Many children go for days without food, proper shelter or clothing. According to von Wissell, there are more than 70,000 orphans living in Swaziland and more than 60,000 other children who are vulnerable because of sickness or poverty or food insecurity.
The ranks of these children grow by more than 10,000 each year.
“Soon, more than 10 percent of our nation will be orphaned,” said von Wissell. “This will be a first in history. No nation on earth has experienced this massive population of parentless children: not through famine, drought or war. This is not a normal society. “
The World Bank is partnering with the NERCHA to assist grassroots organizations in fighting the pandemic through the Human Development Civil Society Fund (previously the Small Grants program). NERCHA and the Bank have issued a Call for Proposals that will reach deep into the country’s four provinces at the community level. NERCHA will implement the program with the Bank, while the government, other development partners and the count