Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate increases to 25 percent

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Pascalinah Kabi

Lesotho’s HIV-prevalence rate has increased from 23 percent to 25 percent, according to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) report released yesterday.

“Twenty-five percent of adults age 15-49 in Lesotho are infected with HIV. In both 2004 and 2009, the HIV prevalence rate for adults was slightly less – 23 percent,” reads the report.

The report further notes the HIV-prevalence rate is 30 percent among women and 19 percent among men, with Maseru topping all the districts at 28 percent.

“Overall, 35 percent of couples have at least one partner with HIV. In 20 percent of couples, both partners are HIV-positive. Fifteen-percent of couples are discordant, that is, one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative,” the report adds.

Health Minister Dr Monyamane last night said the number of people living with HIV had now increased, but allayed the nation’s fears.

“We shouldn’t worry about the prevalence rate because we are putting more people on treatment.

“In fact, this prevalence of 25 percent is a good thing. It means people living with HIV are now more; they are not dying. Once you test positive, you will always be positive. What should worry us are new infections,” Dr Monyamane said.

“However, if you look at the incidence rate among key populations, the numbers are shocking and we must initiate behavioral change programmes to control these numbers.

“You look at the prevalence rate among sex workers, it is shocking because you will find out some men buying sex from these ladies continue to infect these ladies because they don’t want to use protection.”

Addressing journalists yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said although medical doctors were trying to downplay these findings, he was increasingly getting uncomfortable.

“It is estimated that Lesotho’s new HIV-infections are 52 per day while AIDS-related deaths are 26 per day. This is not a good sign at all.

“I am now told that the Ministry of Health has released a new report stating that Lesotho’s prevalence rate is now 25 percent.

“Suppose Swaziland, which is number one in the world (at 26 percent) has performed better and their prevalence rate has decreased, Lesotho will now be number one and we should all be worried,” Mr Metsing said.

The deputy premier also said he was not comforted by medical doctors’ explanation that the HIV-prevalence rate meant Lesotho was doing something right.

“I can tell that all medical doctors or Ministers of Health reason the same way when it comes to the HIV prevalence. UNAIDS African Regional Director ‘M’e Sheila Tlou said we shouldn’t get worried by the high prevalence rate saying it means more people are on treatment.

“But I feel like this is just trying to put out some fire because if the percentage goes up, it means the number of infected people is increasing. It is true that more people are on treatment but we don’t want this 25 percent. Let us all work hard to reverse the numbers.

“It can never be a good thing under any circumstances. What is good is for us to put people on treatment but the percentage must be low and manageable.

“We need to work hard to achieve zero infections, no discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Other countries have achieved this and we can also do the same because we are not different from them.”

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