'Illicit SMS' Swaziland Aids campaign sparks furore

A government Aids-awareness campaign that mimics SMSs between lovers has angered activists in HIV-ravaged Swaziland, who say it implies people living with the disease are promiscuous.

The “Makhwapheni Uyabulala” campaign, which means “Secret lovers kill”, features pictures of a cellphone screen bearing SMSs such as “Let’s have a quickie, my husband’s not around,” or “Come over now, my husband is out.”

A support group for people living with HIV said the campaign—which ran on national television, radio and in newspapers—is insulting and will discourage people from disclosing their HIV status in a country battling the world’s highest HIV rate.

“This campaign ... stigmatises against people living with HIV and Aids and seems to suggest that they contracted the virus because they were promiscuous,” said Vusi Matsebula, national executive coordinator for the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (Swannepha).

The campaign by the government-backed National Emergency Response Council on HIV and Aids (Nercha) was meant to discourage multiple sexual partners in Swaziland, where about 40% of adults are believed to be infected with HIV.

Activists argue infidelity is just one of several factors fuelling the spread of HIV in Swaziland, a tiny nation of one million people tucked between South Africa and Mozambique.

They say the failure to use condoms is the chief problem.

Nercha’s Sibusiso Mngadi, head of communications aimed at changing sexual behaviour to combat the virus, this week hailed the campaign as a success because it has ignited debate on HIV.

Nercha withdrew most of the advertisements earlier this month after protests by Swannepha, which threatened legal action. But some continued on national radio.

Polygamy and multiple sexual partners have helped spread HIV in Swaziland and some activists say the king—sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch—sets a bad example by having 13 wives.—Reuters