King Letsie III says one of the most effective weapons to fight HIV and AIDs with is through testing for the virus to ensure those infected access antiretroviral treatment (ART) on time.
His Majesty made the remark in his keynote address during the 2014 World AIDS Day celebration held in Thaba-Bosiu on Monday this week.
World Aids Day is marked annually on 1 December to raise awareness about the deadly disease.
“When Lesotho marked World AIDS Day in 2005, government put strategic plans in place to fight the epidemic, such as ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy, the know-your-status campaign and providing counselling services to the people.
“This year’s theme, ‘Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV-infections. Zero deaths from Aids-related illness. Zero discrimination’, moves us towards examining these strategic plans. We need to check whether they need to be reviewed with the aim of closing gaps where there are any,” His Majesty said.
“However, I still believe people need to get tested since that way, they will easily access help when they are sure of their HIV status.
“Only then can they be able to live their lives positively while those who are free from it, ensure they remain that way for the rest of their lives.
“It is an individual’s responsibility to get tested and it’s only if we protect ourselves from this disease that we can defeat it.
“Such victory will help us reach our Millennium Development Goals as a country of eradicating such epidemics by 2015 among other targets. UNAIDS has also put new standards that countries must observe by 2030 known as 90/90/90. This simply means out of 10 people, nine must be aware of their HIV status, and taking their treatment in order to decrease the undetectable viral load in their bodies.”
His Majesty further said the fact that Lesotho now has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world at 23 percent, with Swaziland first at 26 percent, should be cause for shame to Basotho.
- Advertisement -
Until recently, Lesotho was third behind Swaziland and Botswana, but the situation has since changed with Lesotho swapping places with Botswana on the infamous table.
“This situation says HIV infections are increasing in Lesotho and we should be ashamed since other countries have achieved so much in the fight against the disease.”
However, His Majesty noted the Ministry of Health’s reopening of Queen Elizabeth II District Hospital last month, would go a long way to help fight the disease since it used to provide essential services to HIV-positive patients before its closure in 2011.
“What we need to do is effectively use advice given by international organisations and the ministry of health to curb the virus,” His Majesty said.
On her part, the Minister of Health, Pinkie Manamolela concurred with His Majesty on the need to ensure as many people as possible know their HIV status.
“This year alone, we managed to get 122 693 people test for HIV, with 11 158 being found positive. We also found 38 096 new infections this year, and 84 597 people were tested more than once.”
Dr Manamolela further noted each district was given a specific target for people who should be tested.
The minister added: “The figures show that there are 133 000 Basotho who are on antiretroviral therapy, while the United Nations standard put for Lesotho is to provide 230 000 people with ART by 2015. This shows we are behind by 97 000, so we need to work harder to meet the required target.”
In his address, the American Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington, said in 2001, global leaders met and committed to mobilise between $7 billion (M70 billion) and $10 billion annually by 2005 to fight HIV and AIDS.
Ambassador Harrington added with the launch of Global Fund, World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘3 by 5’ initiative in 2003 and US Government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2008, the global response to the HIV pandemic was born.
“Since then, due to our strong partnerships and collective efforts across the globe, new HIV infections have dropped by half since the peak of the epidemic, and life-expectancy has rebounded. In sub-Saharan Africa, new HIV-infections are down by one-third since 2005; AIDS-related deaths have declined by nearly 40 percent; and access to lifesaving HIV-treatment has increased more than forty-fold.
“We have made so much progress, so why then, 30 years after Dr Robert Gallo showed that HIV causes AIDS and 18 years after life-saving treatment first became available, have an estimated 26,000 Basotho died from HIV/AIDS this year alone?” Ambassador Harrington said.
“Lesotho is doing so many things the right way in the fight against HIV. However, at the same time, too many Basotho continue to die; too many children continue to be born HIV-positive, and too many families continue to be devastated by this terrible but manageable disease.
“An AIDS-free generation is within Lesotho’s reach, but to get there, the country must deliver the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
“The American people and the United States government are long-standing partners in Lesotho’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Since 2007, we have provided more than $193 million to support Lesotho’s response to the epidemic. This year, we will provide an additional $35 million through our bilateral programme.”
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a lentivirus which causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)—a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive.