US pumps in M1 billion for HIV, AIDS fight 


Bereng Mpaki

LESOTHO is set to receive over M1 billion in support from the United States government to strengthen its fight against HIV and AIDS during the 2019-2020 financial year.

The news was recently delivered by US Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales when she met with the Minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi.

The funds will be channelled through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as part of the broader efforts by the United States to help Lesotho reverse the HIV and AIDS burden and achieve an AIDS free generation.

“I am pleased to announce more than M1, 25 billion in funding for the country operational plan 2019, which represents an increase in funding,” Ms Gonzales said.

“The United States recognises Lesotho’s commitment and swift adoption of critical policies has brought the country closer to achieving an AIDS free generation. I urge all stakeholders to ensure that the commitment continues. Together we must push forward with utmost urgency to make reaching epidemic control by 2020 a reality.  The time to act is now.”

In its strategy for accelerating HIV and AIDS Epidemic Control, PEPFAR selected Lesotho as one of the 13 high-burden countries with the potential to reach epidemic control. As recent results from Lesotho’s Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) indicate, Lesotho continues to make progress towards reaching the 90-90-90 targets. Along the HIV treatment cascade, two strong points are especially evident: once Basotho living with HIV are identified, they are linked to treatment at a very high rate and once enrolled on treatment, the viral suppression rate among those patients is also impressive.

To close the remaining gaps, the US Embassy says it is critical that all Basotho living with HIV know their status and have access to treatment. PEPFAR also says scaling up case finding efforts, particularly for men, adolescents and young people, is critical to getting the last kilometre down the road to epidemic control.

This record-level of support, the embassy said, will build on the progress Lesotho has made, while at the same time encourage the country to take bold and concrete steps to address the underlying challenges hindering the successful fight against HIV and AIDS.

“As the Trump administration recently announced in its new Africa strategy, the US will make certain that all aid to the region—whether for security, humanitarian, or development needs—advances these US interests.  Countries that receive US assistance must invest in health and education, encourage accountable and transparent governance, support fiscal transparency and promote the rule of law…. Our goal is to move recipient states toward self-reliance, and prevent long-term dependency,” Ms Gonzales further noted.

Lesotho has been quick to adopt critical updates to global policies, ensuring that the HIV response continues to make progress.  As the country nears epidemic control, it will be increasingly essential to ensure full implementation of vital policies.

PEPFAR, the US government’s comprehensive global response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, has spent over M6 billion since 2007 to help control the burden of HIV and AIDS in Lesotho.

In 2018, the US government and Lesotho signed a five-year bilateral Development Objective Grant Agreement to provide the framework for USAID’s for (PEPFAR) funding in which over the next five years, approved total funding levels of up to US$250 million is anticipated.

Before this funding, the US had spent more than US$384 million towards achieving HIV and AIDS epidemic control in Lesotho.

For his part, Mr Kabi said the assistance would play a major role in ensuring the country maintains its momentum in fighting the HIV and AIDS pandemic despite the looming budgetary constraints. He said he signed an initial agreement for the funds with Ms Gonzales last December.

“The assistance from the US government is going to play a very important role in the country’s efforts to eradicate HIV and AIDS, especially now that the country has financial challenges that would otherwise curtail the budget allocated towards HIV and AIDS,” Mr Kabi told Lesotho Times on yesterday.

Among other things, he said, the ministry has to ensure that public awareness and sensitisation campaigns are strengthened as protection is better than cure.

“We have to strengthen our sensitisation campaigns, to avoid more infections because ideally we do not prefer to treat people who are already infected, as it can also be quite expensive,” Mr Kabi said.

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