Mixed results: the protective role of schooling in the HIV epidemic in Swaziland

DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2017.1362016
Author(s): Alan WhitesideBalsillie School of International Affairs, Canada, Andriana VinnitchokWilfrid Laurier University, Canada, Tengetile DlaminiNational Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS, Switzerland, Khanya MabuzaNational Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS, Switzerland


Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. It is recognised that young women, especially adolescents, are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and bear a disproportionate burden of HIV incidence. The HIV data from Swaziland show the location of the epidemic, which is particularly high among adolescent girls and young women. This paper is based on research in Swaziland, commissioned because of the perception that large numbers of children were dropping out of the school. It was assumed that these “dropouts” had increased risk of HIV exposure. This study carried out a detailed analysis using the Annual Education Census Reports from 2012 to 2014 produced by the Ministry of Education. In addition, this topic was explored, during fieldwork with key informants in the country. While HIV prevalence rises rapidly among young women in Swaziland, as is the case across most of Southern Africa, the data showed there were few dropouts. This was the case at all levels of education — primary, junior secondary and senior secondary. The major reason for dropping out of primary school was family reasons; and in junior and senior secondary, pregnancy was the leading cause. Swaziland is doing well in terms of getting its children into school, and, for the most part, keeping them there. This paper identifies the students who face increased vulnerability: the limited number of dropouts; repeaters who consequently were “out-of-age for grade”; and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The learners who were classified as repeaters and OVC greatly outnumbered the dropouts. We argue, on the basis of these data, for re-focussed attention and the need to develop a method for tracking children as they move across the vulnerable groups. We acknowledge schooling is protective in reducing children’s vulnerability to HIV, and Swaziland is on the right track in education, although there are challenges.

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