Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs minister Pontšo ’Matumelo Sekatle has appealed to all Basotho to heed government’s call for “serious” behavioural change in order to curb the spread of HIV—the virus which causes the incurable AIDS.
Speaking exclusively to the Lesotho Times on Monday this week, Dr Sekatle said the seven-party coalition government led by Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, was concerned about Lesotho’s high HIV-prevalence rate of 23 percent which is the second-highest in the world behind Swaziland’s 26 percent.
Until 2013, Lesotho was at number three but has since swapped places with Botswana on the infamous index of the virus.
Dr Sekatle said: “It has really worried the current government, through all its ministries and departments, that the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and TB as well, continue to spread alarmingly among our people. It is as if Basotho no longer fear HIV. I think the introduction of antiretroviral drugs has made us relax and that’s dangerous because this medication does not either cure the disease or prevent it from spreading.
“The way I see things, that is the general perception. But Basotho need to realise that the medication is only meant to boost the immune system so that if the person is HIV-positive, he or she can at least live longer with the disease and preventing that person from speedily reaching the critical stage of AIDS.”
Dr Sekatle, who is also president of the Democratic Congress Women’s League (DCWL), further expressed concern at “problems brought by the pandemic’s prevalence, particularly on women of this country”.
Many Basotho suffer tension-related illnesses due to HIV/AIDS, she noted, adding “the pinch of pain is mostly felt by mothers as they are family pillars in most cases.”
The solution to the unrelenting pandemic, according to the minister, is drastic change in sexual behaviour.
“It is only wise that this change begins in families because that is where the nation starts. The nation is built through families. I think that is where we should really focus our attention on as all relevant institutions. We should go back to instilling the ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful and Condomise) policy among families,” Dr Sekatle said.
“Basotho should be sensitised on the importance of abstention from sexual activity before marriage; being faithful to one partner where people are married and using condom protection where necessary. The good thing about HIV/AIDS is that unlike other deadly diseases, we can prevent its spread if we simply choose to change our sexual behaviour.”
Meanwhile, Dr Sekatle, who led the DCWL’s African Women celebration in Berea last Saturday, said the occasion was themed ‘Empowering Women Against HIV/AIDS, Gender Based Violence and Inheritance Based Discrimination Against Women and Girls’, because of government’s grave concern about its female population.
“Most women and girls continue to be at the receiving end regarding gender-based violence. Indeed, there are a few cases of males being victims. But mostly, we hear about cases of women and girls being raped, assaulted, and harassed emotionally and financially, among other disturbing reports.
“The same goes with the issue of inheritance where even our laws discriminate against women and girls. The Chieftainship Act of 1968, which still controls the succession of chiefs, also sidelines girl-children from succession. It is unacceptable in this day and age to keep practising such unfortunate traditions which disadvantage women and girls.
“As the Chieftainship Affairs minister, I am deeply disturbed by some cases I have as examples of this discrimination. As a matter of fact, we hope, in this very 9th Parliament, to invite all relevant institutions to take part as the government engages in constitutional reforms to iron out these issues, among other things.”
As part of the government’s initiative to address the issue of HIV/AIDS, Dr Sekatle said the authorities were looking at how best the now-defunct National Aids Commission, “or a body of a similar nature” could be established as a matter of urgency.