‘Collaboration is key’

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…says new National AIDS Commission CEO Keratile Thabana

Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER Education and Training ministry Principal Secretary, Keratile Thabana, has been appointed chief executive officer of the National AIDS Commission (NAC).

The appointment is with effect from 1 February 2016.

Announcing the appointment on Thursday, NAC chairperson, Reverend Tšeliso Masemene, said Ms Thabana had the leadership and organisational acumen to fulfil the commission’s mandate of developing and coordinating strategies for controlling and combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

NAC was relaunched in December last year after its disbandment in 2011. The dissolution followed a damning report that it had deviated from its mandate and become a burden to taxpayers.

Before the body’s disbandment, Lesotho’s HIV-prevalence rate was 23 percent and third in the world behind Swaziland and Botswana respectively.

The country has since leapfrogged Botswana, which is now at 19 percent, into second position, while Swaziland leads the pack at 26 percent.

Reverend Masemene said Ms Thabana would be the “face, brains and heart” of NAC, adding she would use her vast experience in government to coordinate HIV/AIDS interventions.

“She is the face, brain and heart of NAC. She has the leadership qualities we were looking for, the ability to coordinate and deal with different stakeholders and experience in dealing with HIV/Aids issues at administrative level,” Reverend Masemene said, adding her tenure would be five years.

The commission had the unenviable task of redressing Lesotho’s consistently high HIV-prevalence rate, the Reverend added.

“We have been appointed commissioners of the National AIDS Commission at a time Lesotho has the second highest HIV-prevalence rate in the world. According to UNAIDS, in Lesotho there are approximately 10 000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths and 25 000 or more new infections every year. Every two weeks, 110 girls are infected with HIV,” said Reverend Masemene.

“These figures are very worrisome and show that HIV/AIDS is destroying us. This disease has done so much damage in the lives of the people of the world. It has damaged not only our physical bodies, but also emotionally, spiritually and socially.”

Reverend Masemene said HIV/AIDS did not respect any boundaries since it infected and affected everyone.

“We have noted with great concern that the pandemic has continued to plague the Basotho nation, with the high death rate leaving Lesotho with a sea of orphans both within and outside the country,” he said.

“It is with these challenges in mind that the government of Lesotho made the decision to resuscitate NAC.”

Reverend Masemene said Lesotho had set itself the 90-90-90 treatment target by 2020. This, he said, meant by the year 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV would know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy have viral suppression.

“In order to perform its duty of providing strategic leadership countrywide to achieve the 90-90-90 goals by 2020 and working towards ending HIV and AIDS by 2030, the National AIDS Commission is cognisant of its responsibility regarding the Prime Minister’s National Health Leadership Reform Programme,” he said.

“The programme will be implemented in close collaboration with the ministry of health, other ministries, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, higher learning institutions, media and other various stakeholders such as chiefs, councillors and traditional healers.”

Reverend Masemene further said NAC would partner with other agencies in the fight against the pandemic.

“We are not going to fight alone but together with international partners, Basotho as well as those affected and infected by the disease,” he said.

On her part, Ms Thabana said coordination was key to fulfilling NAC’s mandate.

“We all know that coordination is not an easy job given the number of people or organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS issues. Coordination and collaboration are key and critical to every effort we will make in combating this pandemic,” she said.

Ms Thabana said the country could only attain the set goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030 if all relevant stakeholders played their part in combating the virus.

“The government alone cannot arrest HIV/AIDS, and it needs to partner with non-governmental organisations and all relevant stakeholders in ensuring that initiatives to end the pandemic benefit the country,” she said.

“We all need to pull in the right direction to ensure we fulfil the mandate. We cannot have duplication of roles if we want to win this fight, and our board will go for a retreat before the end of this month to make a decision on how we must forge ahead with one voice.”

NAC Board members: Reverend Tšeliso Masemene, Advocate Mamotsoene Panana (King’s Counsel), Bakoena Chele, ‘Manako Tetsoane, ‘Maseabata Ramathebane, Malefetsane Liau, Kenny Ntoane, Mpho Vumbukani, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso and ‘Makhabiso Ramphona.

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