In The Field
Eswatini holds the dubious and sad distinction of the country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world. Compounded with sub-Saharan Africa’s typical poor allocation of services and funds, the isolated and impoverished communities in this country have no way to access the even nominal health care available in the city centres.
Maphiveni is situated along the main road to the Mozambican border and the intersection of the main roads between the various sugar cane plantations. Unemployment is very high as there is very little work locally. Some enterprising residents cater to the thru traffic by selling fruits and snacks. There is an army checkpoint on the main road here that all traffic coming from the east must stop, disembark, and be searched.
Informal settlements in Vuvulane, a few kilometers north of Maphiveni are made up mostly of people that rely on providing day labor to the farmers in Vuvulane when the work is available.
Poverty is rampant here and visible in the condition of houses, clothing, and general health. Prostitution is also common here because of the high volume of truck traffic associated with the sugar cane plantations and trade between Mozambique. There are few other opportunities for employment. A woman who chooses to become a ‘sex worker’ here can make more in a day that most people here will see all month. The lack of choices leading to the final decision to sell yourself to be able to afford basic necessities like food and shelter speaks volumes of the general condition of this area.
The winter is the dry season in Eswatini. There is typically no (or inconsequential amounts) of rain from April through September each year. Since this area is in the low veld, planting could continue year-round. But as most residents here lack the resources to irrigate from the nearby Mbuluzi River, even that opportunity is lost.
Drinking water is sourced from the river or irrigation canals. Even gathering water from the river is dangerous as crocodiles are present and periodically do take people collecting water. The river water is at times obviously polluted from the sugar mills upstream but is always polluted from run off from the fields and animal and human fecal matter. Waterborne illnesses are common here. Simple purification methods are financially out of the reach of most residents: bleach or extra firewood for boiling water are commodities beyond the financial reach of most.
While there is government mandated free primary education, there are no primary schools in or close to Maphiveni. The closest functional public health centre is in Siteki (Good Shepherd Hospital) approximately 50 km (31 miles) distant.
Maphiveni and Vuvulane are isolated and marginalized: there are very few services offered (infrequently) by either government or NGO’s.