Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Facing up to the AIDS situation in Swaziland

I started working again this week, after a few weeks of rest. At a conference hosted by HEARD, which I attended last year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, I was privileged to meet Prof Robin Root, associate professor at the Baruch College in New York, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She has been working on the topic of the role of faith-based organisations in the fight against AIDS in Swaziland for some years. After we met in Durban, I invited her to come and visit our home-based care project in Swaziland, which she did, and at the moment she is back in Swaziland to continue her research. Not only has she been interviewing the coordinators of the different home-based care groups (twelve at the moment), but she has also been visiting some of the clients who are being supported by our caregivers.
So this was a long introduction to speak about a situation we came across on Thursday. Before we entered the home, the specific caregiver working at the homestead warned us that the client is in a bad shape. Oh boy! Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. This man was lying on a very thin mattress on the floor with the most grotesque sores on his feet imaginable. (I’ve seen something similar before and a doctor told me that it was most probably Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of skin cancer caused by the herpes virus.) What does one say to a person in this situation. He cannot walk, because the huge tumours are covering the soles of both his feet. He has been taken to a rural clinic for blood tests to try and determine the cause of the tumours, but the clinic either lost the blood sample or they lost the report (I’m not sure which). He lives in a house without running water and without electricity. As we sat with him, he was using a rag to try and chase the flies away from his feet! Furthermore, he is living in severe pain, but the local clinic was only able to give him the weakest form of pain killers available in Swaziland.
As we left, I said to Robin that we should try and imagine a similar situation in the USA. Had anything like this happened there, the patient would have been hospitalised. He would have received medication. Most probably the tumours would have been surgically removed. Once he returned home, he would have had access to medication which would at least have kept the symptoms under control. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and whatever else was prescribed by the doctors would have been available to assist this person to lead as normal a life as possible.
But in Swaziland this will not happen. At the moment he has no other future, except to wait for his inevitable death.


Saturday, January 17, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Culture Shock, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland


  1. Very true. In America this man would have been whisked to the hospital. If he lacked medical insurance, he would still have received immediate emergency medical. Hospitals cannot refuse anyone.

    When I think about the situation in Swaziland, typified by this story, I feel guilty for living in America and having such great medical resources available for my slightest ailment. But I don’t think guilt is helpful to my friends in Swaziland.

    As one individual American who may visit Swaziland to serve only a few times, what should I do about this story? What can I do to influence change in Swaziland? I’d be curious about other’s perspectives.


    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Sunday, January 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. I think the sad part is that as an individual we will not be able to do much.Before the world at large has not come to the point where they realise that life is important, regardless of where that life may be, we will probably not see much change.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, January 18, 2009 | Reply

  3. But I’m not sure that it’s really true that an individual can’t do anything. Isn’t history and scripture filled with stories of individuals who, when chosen, gifted and empowered, DID make a difference? Additionally, doesn’t giving in to the idea that one individual can make a difference foster an attitude of complacency?

    I think that God uses stories like the man with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and no medical care available (and the telling of them, and the technology of blogging and the web). He uses the stories to create humility and gratitude in some, to motivate others out of complacency, some of whom can then motivate larger groups of people and even organizations and governments. This might not help the particular gentleman in your story Arnau, but it makes you part of the story and part of God’s plan to bring about His kingdom globally. Keep telling the stories.


    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Monday, January 19, 2009 | Reply

  4. Wendi, I absolutely agree with what you said. One person can make a difference. But more than one person need to get involved. The tragedy is that the man I wrote about is one of who knows how many thousands. I can try and do something for this one man (and we are definitely going to try within the means available to us), but ultimately the world needs to realise that this man has a family and children (and a cute little granddaughter who was playing right next to her grandfather while we all felt sick when we saw his body) and that his life is not expendable.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, January 19, 2009 | Reply

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