THE Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Kimetso Mathaba said high food insecurity was affecting the country’s efforts to achieve an HIV-free society by 2030 through the Test and Treat strategy.
Mr Mathaba said this on the sidelines of the National AIDS Commission (NAC) board of directors’ retreat in Ha Mohale on Tuesday.
“Test and Treat is a challenge. When the Prime Minister launched this policy, he said someone once argued that taking medicine on an empty stomach would be committing suicide,” Mr Mathaba said.
“This is not a minor issue. We have told our development partners that we face a huge challenge in that people under HIV treatment are food insecure and must be given food parcels.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure that people are food secure because if left unattended, this could compromise our test and treat policy as people will take medication on empty stomachs,” he said.
The three-day retreat, facilitated by Kenyan expert Simon Micheru, seeks to familiarise the NAC board members with the commission’s legal framework and policy.
Mr Mathaba said it was an opportunity for the board members and management to engage in extensive dialogue and appreciate the national multi-sectoral HIV and AIDS response.
“The board and management will discuss the post 2015 HIV and AIDS agenda and the implications for Lesotho.
“NAC was given a mandate by His Majesty through the government to lead the country in intensifying the fight against HIV and AIDS. Lesotho should and shall win the war to be an AIDS-free country by 2030,” Mr Mathaba said.
He also said it was a well-known fact that HIV and AIDS were the biggest enemy particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Lesotho is second in the world with an HIV-prevalence rate of 23 percent coupled with HIV/tuberculosis co-infection rates (at) 74 percent.
“Although the government took measures to arrest the situation, the country experienced 17 000 new infections and 3700 deaths in 2014. In 2015 the country had 337 000 people living with HIV with only 127 000 on treatment,” Mr Mathaba said.
He said this forced government to change its policies and strategies so “it is no longer business as usual. Now we test and treat.”
The minister added government was committed to leaving no one behind, adding there should be zero-discrimination in the provision of HIV and AIDS services.
Target groups include children, the elderly, children with disabilities, sex workers, gays and lesbians, adolescents and young single mothers.
“The bottom line is prevention interventions should be for every Mosotho and access to medicines and therapy should be sustainable and available to everyone,” he said.
He said the commission had the legal authority to coordinate all stakeholders dealing with HIV and AIDS to enable them to work towards the same vision, mission, goals, targets and indications.
The minister further said it was critical that all stakeholders supported the commission in executing its mandate to coordinate HIV and AIDS efforts.
“It would be remise of me not to acknowledge our partners who have walked this long and difficult journey of HIV and AIDS management with us. You are indeed valuable partners.
“I appeal for your continued support because the road ahead is still long, thorny and slippery with dangerous curves and steep slopes. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and with your support we will reach the 90-90-90 targets and beyond.
“You have been trusted to lead this country to fast-track national initiatives and coordinate processes that will turn things around so that TB, HIV and Aids are managed to extinction,” Mr Mathaba said.
In terms of the 90-90-90 targets, it is envisaged that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. It is also expected that 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression by then.