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A second chance at life

By Lungile Dlamini

The Thwala family gathers around the small radio set to listen to the commentary of the 2010 Fifa World Cup tournament kick-off. The excitement in the little four-roomed house is so huge, neighbours walking past can almost feel it.  

MDRTB and HIV positive, Swaziland

Like millions of soccer lovers around the world, the Thwalas have been looking forward to this momentous occasion for some time now. For them, the World Cup event is all the more exciting because, for the first time in history, the biggest sporting event in the world is taking place in Africa, in neighbouring South Africa. 

The family lives in Jerusalem, a small rural community in the Shiselweni region, in the southern part of Swaziland.  

The small Kingdom of Swaziland is sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique. It is the country with the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/Aids, one in four people are living with HIV.   

For 48-year-old Jeremiah Thwala, the head of the household, the moment is a welcome reprieve from the woes of an illness that has ravaged him for the past two years or so. He cannot help thinking how close he came to missing this historical event when he nearly died due to the killer dual infection of HIV and tuberculosis (TB).  

As he looks around at the excited faces of his three children, two teenage boys and a girl, he can only appreciate the second chance he has been given at life.  

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) have allowed him to get his life back. Jeremiah is one of thousands of Swazis who are co-infected with HIV and TB (or as in his case, MDR TB which is a much harder to treat and deadlier form of TB). 

“ARVs and TB drugs have given me a second chance at life, but it is a pity that my wife did not get this second chance,” he laments. 

Jeremiah’s wife, Patricia Masuku, died in 2005 before a diagnosis could be made because the family never sought medical help. They believed that her sickness was a result of witchcraft practices by neighbours in the community. 

Though many people in Swaziland have died needlessly because of such misguided beliefs, many more are alive today because they now have access to free life-saving HIV and TB treatment at public health facilities.  

Jeremiah, who is currently unemployed due to his health condition, which is slowly improving thanks to treatment, says he has every reason to be forever grateful that he received access to ARVs and TB drugs. He now has the chance to raise his children and see his first grandchild.  

For the moment, he can enjoy the football. A simple pleasure many would take for granted, but one that holds a moment of magic for Jeremiah and his children.

Lungile Dlamini, MSF Information, Education and Communications Officer, Mbabane, Swaziland