MASERU — Lesotho and other countries in the region should consider legalising prostitution if the continent is to meet its target of completely stopping new HIV infections by 2015, former Botswana president Festus Mogae said on Monday.
Mogae, who is chairing Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, a regional initiative to fight Aids, made the suggestion during a press briefing in Maseru.
He was on a three-day visit to Lesotho on a mission to encourage leaders to accelerate their response to HIV and Aids.
He was accompanied by Professor Miriam Were, the former chairperson of the Kenyan National Aids Council and renowned public health icon who has won international accolades for her efforts to bring basic medical services to millions of women and children in Africa.
Mogae said criminalising prostitution would continue to hamper efforts to involve sex workers in the fight against HIV.
“Stop police from chasing prostitutes away,” he said.
“Rather include them (prostitutes) in prevention programmes in order for us to reach zero percent infections by 2015.”
Mogae said prostitution should be legalised so that communication with prostitutes is easier.
He added: “Prostitution is not something one aspires to do. They do it because of circumstances so criminalising them would not help.”
The former Botswana leader said he has since come to accept that even prisoners must be given condoms because it would be self-defeating if they were not included in HIV prevention programmes.
He said: “It would not be of any help if a person goes to prison HIV negative, not provided with condoms and comes back to the society infected.
“We would want to prevent every source of infections.”
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Although Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho have the highest HIV prevalence globally there was still a chance to stop new infections, he said.
“We are the worst and we have ourselves to blame. But we can remind ourselves that we are not yet out of route. We can stop new infections for future HIV-free generations.”
Lesotho has the third highest prevalence rate in the world at 23 percent.
Only Botswana and Swaziland are worse.
Mogae urged youths to stop risky sexual behaviour and to abstain from sex.
“Sex is natural but at this stage there is a problem. Young people who have not yet started sexual activities should hold (delay) the debut,” he said.
Speaking at the same occasion Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili said Basotho should ditch cultural behaviour that put them at risk of contracting HIV and Aids.
He said that the culture of multiple concurrent sexual partners reverses the gains the country has made in fighting the scourge.
“That a real man should have many women partners is absolute nonsense,” he said.
Professor Were said people should make more use of the Know-Your-Status campaign introduced by Lesotho some years ago.
“To get out of this epidemic people should know their status. We should step up the Know-Your-Status campaign.”
The life expectancy in most African countries had gone down significantly and “if we are not careful HIV and Aids can wipe us out,” Were said.