Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate falls

MASERU — The National Aids Commission (NAC) this week said Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate has slightly decreased over the past two years.

NAC on Tuesday told Members of Parliament that the HIV prevalence rate fell by 0.2 percent last year.

Lesotho has the third highest prevalence rate in the world at 23.5 percent behind Swaziland and Botswana.

NAC said the prevalence rate has been lowest among the ages of 15 to 19 years. 

The HIV prevalence rate is highest in the 30 to 39 year demographic groups at 40 percent.

HIV positive men make 18 percent while women make 26.7 percent, NAC said.

The numbers were revealed to the MPs at their meeting with the NAC to review achievements on the national HIV and Aids strategic plan for the last five years and to discuss new strategies to curb the pandemic which is claiming 20 000 lives every year.

Speaking at the meeting the NAC strategic planner, Dr Limbamba, said more needs to be done to reduce the prevalence rate.

“The conclusion therefore is that the HIV prevalence in the country has stabilised,” he said.                                                  Limbamba said the Know Your Status (KYS) campaign has been successful with 737 000 people having been tested.

However Limbamba’s statement of success of the KYS campaign clashes with the Auditor General Lucy Liphafa’s report that described the campaign as a total failure.

At the KYS launch in 2007 Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili said the campaign would see at least 1.3 million of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people being tested for HIV.

The 737 000 tested people are slightly above half of the targeted 1.3 million.

Liphafa’s audit revealed that the campaign failed because of lack of communication between the community, counselors and the KYS managers.

The communication strategy was not developed until early 2007, more than halfway through the duration of the campaign, Liphafa said in the audit report for 2007/8.

According to the plan the campaign was supposed to have been carried out in all villages of the 10 districts but the auditors established that was not the case during their visits to Mafeteng and Leribe districts.

Many villages that were visited said there had never been any KYS activities in their areas.

Limbamba also told the MPs that prevention of mother to child transmission coverage rates had increased from 58 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2009.

He also said the CD4 count of the majority of people living with the virus increased from 200 to 350 between 2007 and 2009.

“There has also been TB case detection rate of 80 percent and treatment success improvement of 74 percent in 2008,” Limbamba said.

“The country has also been successful in the reduction of stigma and discrimination against people living with the virus, with the right Honourable Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili being the foreman in ensuring that stigmatisation ends,” he said.

“We have also been able to establish Lesotho Network of People with Aids and have seen that projects which deal mainly with HIV/Aids issues take off.”

There has been achievement in creating community and home-based care programmes, focus on awareness and subsequent shift to behaviour change and introduction of decentralised response through the gateway approach.

In terms of annual incidence, the country has seen a drop of new infections from 22 000 in 2007 to 21 000 in 2009 among adults and from 3 000 to 1 700 in children of 0-14 years.

He pointed that although a lot has been achieved it is mostly in the lowlands, therefore the MPs should go back to their respective places in the highlands and advocate for the importance of knowing one’s HIV status and correct use of condoms.

“Thaba Tseka has been found as the district with highest rate of HIV infection and multiple concurrent partners, so it is important that you as MPs go back to the community that elected you and educate them about the importance of using condoms correctly and having one partner,” said Lambamba.

It is reported that in the past 12 months, men were found to have more multiple concurrent partners than women in the ages between 15-49 years and 15-24.

Lambamba said although many believe that male circumcision to be one of the main contributors to the high infection rate, research shows that it actually combats the spread of the virus.

“Studies found that some drivers for high HIV prevalence in Lesotho are due to having multiple concurrent partners. This has been due to labour migration, so people, both men and women find themselves having two or more sexual partners.”

“Low and inconsistent (incorrect) use of condoms and personal knowledge on HIV status, some people have found to be frightened of knowing their status, therefore continue to infect others and re-infect themselves.”

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, NAC’s acting chief executive ‘Manneheng Mopeli said it was important for NAC to come up with a new National Strategic Plan as required in the National HIV and Aids Policy.

She said the development of the new monitoring and evaluation framework will commence once the strategic plan has been developed to ensure that it is properly aligned with all HIV and Aids interventions.

“Furthermore, the new National Strategic Plan is intended to guide the national response by placing priority on multi-sectoral co-ordination and scale up  mechanisms for providing effective services for prevention, treatment, care and support and impact mitigation,” Mopeli said.

She said: “The new NSP is intended to take the national HIV and Aids response to new heights and achieve results that will ultimately reduce the impact of HIV and Aids in Lesotho.”

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