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Aids literacy low among youth

by Lesotho Times
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THABA-TSEKA — At 26 years, Sechaba Mohlohlo, was disturbingly ignorant about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Mohlohlo dismissed out of hand any suggestion HIV was spread through unprotected sex arguing that he did not see how this “concept” could ever be possible.  
He thought the disease was a result of some witchcraft and even blamed it on women whom he said “mostly practise witchcraft”.  
Like many of his fellow villagers, Mohlohlo — who is still single — had been ignoring the message on HIV.
He said the “truth” only hit home after listening to speeches made at the National Aids Day commemoration in his hometown on Tuesday. 
He singled out the lighting of candles in remembrance of those who died of Aids and people infected by HIV as the defining moment in his life.
He said until then he had been living in complete ignorance.
“I had never seen or heard the reality of HIV infection until today (Tuesday). I never gave myself time to listen to what people had to say about the spread of the disease,” Mohlohlo said.
“I have never felt this way ever since I first heard of the virus. The messages today have frightened me given the kind of life I have been living,” he said.
Mohlohlo, who is unemployed, said he spends most of his days at a local tavern where he enjoys home-brewed beer and the company of women.
It is in the tavern where Mohlohlo confessed he lived a carefree life.
On Tuesday he had just come to have a close view of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili never anticipating he would hear messages that would change his life.
Mohlohlo regrets having ignored the “truth” over the years, admitting his biggest fear now is it might be too late because he might have already contracted the disease.
“I have never been this scared. This is really serious. I now get the message. Unfortunately, it might be too late for me.  I could be infected,” he said.
Despite his fears, Mohlohlo said he is not ready to undergo an HIV test.
“I am not going to test for HIV. Knowing that I am infected will worry me to death,” he said.
Mohlohlo is not alone in his fear.
Morapeli Khitsane, 22, while aware of the dangers of not knowing one’s HIV status, vowed he would never take the test saying he would not stand “bad” results.
Unlike Mohlohlo, he had always known unprotected sexual intercourse was one way of contracting HIV.
However, Khitsane said youths in Thaba-Tseka have ignored the dangers and continue to have unprotected sex.
Most of them, he claimed, are reluctant to go for an HIV test.
“I am one of those who are afraid to test for HIV because I fear for the worst. I would die if I knew that I am infected,” Khitsane said.
Lerato Manyeli, 20, said the spread of HIV in Thaba-Tseka is fuelled by “recklessness”, particularly among the youths.
“Thaba-Tseka youths are not practising safe sex. There is a statement they use that they cannot enjoy a sweet when it is in its wrapping. They mean they cannot enjoy sex while wearing a condom,” Manyeli said.
Molefi ‘Mokose, 25, said he has never tested for HIV and is not willing to do so anytime soon.
‘Mokose also said he fears how the results would come out.
“I am afraid of testing positive. I cannot live with the knowledge that I will die of Aids,” ‘Mokose says.
Speaking at the World Aids Day, Mosisili said Lesotho’s population is declining and one reason could be the ravaging HIV/Aids.
“Our population has decreased from 2 million (in 2000) to 1.8 million (at the last census in 2006). Deaths due to HIV and Aids could have contributed to this decline,” Mosisili said.
Mosisili said even though Lesotho has shown progress in fighting HIV and Aids, there were alarming reports about new infections.
“New HIV infections are rife in Lesotho. We are the country with the third highest HIV prevalence in the whole world,” he said.
He said it was sad there were new infections despite government efforts in fighting the disease.
He said the practice of multiple and concurrent sexual partners, was increasing the spread of HIV.
“Basotho have been (cursed to accept) that multiple and concurrent sexual partners is our culture. This behaviour has to change for us to conquer the infection,” he said.
He said it was up to every individual to change their behaviour in the fight against HIV and Aids.
“Even if the Prime Minister were to talk until the cows come home, it is up to every single person to change their behaviour in the fight against HIV,” Mosisili said.
Mosisili said the reluctance of people to test for HIV was worsening the situation.
“People have often said they are afraid to test for HIV.
“But my question is whether they don’t fear death. When you know your status, at least, you have better ways of taking care of yourself,” he said.
Delivering a speech on behalf of United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, the UN resident co-ordinator Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie said despite some progress in the fight against Aids, the situation remained a cause for concern.
“The world is seeing signs of progress in reversing the Aids epidemic in some countries. Investment in the Aids response is producing results and saving lives.
“At the same time, in global terms, new infections are outpacing the gains achieved in putting people on treatment and Aids remains one of the leading causes of premature deaths globally,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge facing the world is “doing what is right” as a matter of urgency.
“Our challenge is clear: we must continue doing what works, but we must also do more as a matter of urgency to uphold our commitment to reaching universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.”
“The goal could only be achieved if we shine the full light of human rights on HIV. That means countering any form of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.”
Ki-moon added it also entails eliminating violence against women and girls and ensuring access to HIV information and services.
He urged all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the Aids response, including travel-restrictions against people living with HIV.
“People living with HIV can be powerful role models in guiding us to better approaches to prevention, health and human dignity. We must recognise their contributions and promote their active participation in all aspects of the Aids response.”
He also said discrimination against sex workers, drug addicts and homosexuals only fuels the epidemic and prevents cost-effective interventions, calling on Aids responses to be based on evidence, not ideology.
“On this World Aids Day, let us uphold the human rights of all people living with HIV, people at risk of infection, and children and families affected by the epidemic. Let us, especially at this time of economic crisis, use the Aids response to generate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Most of all, let us act now.”

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