THE re-establishment of the National AIDS Commission (NAC) is a welcome development amid spiralling HIV/AIDS infection and prevalence rates.
As reported in this edition, the commission was relaunched on Thursday by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili with a mandate to avoid the pitfalls that led to the disbanding of its first incarnation.
With NAC’s return, there is certainly reason for optimism since Lesotho had become rudderless in developing coherent programmes to combat HIV/AIDS.
The government deserves commendation for the swift manner with which it worked to revive the commission, which is a vital element in the fight against the pandemic. Most observers had doubted if government could follow through on its promise to revive the commission “by the end of this year”, as expressed by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Kimetso Mathaba.
The promise has materialised into reality, and here’s hoping it’s a sign of more things to come. The devil, as they say, will be in the detail of NAC 2.0’s operations, and we look forward to seeing the agency delivering on its mandate.
NAC’s importance cannot be underestimated given that since its disbandment, Lesotho swapped places with Botswana into second place on the infamous index of countries with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.
Botswana’s gains in reducing HIV/AIDS prevalence are testament to their seriousness in tackling the scourge head on. While Lesotho slackened and lost momentum in addressing the root causes of the pandemic, Botswana was unrelenting in efficiently managing and coordinating interventions against any further infections.
We couldn’t agree more with Dr Mosisili that the bulk of NAC’s budget should be devoted to fighting the pandemic and not staff salaries. Lesotho can ill-afford bankrolling lavish lifestyles with money meant for stopping in its tracks a pandemic that has truly become an existential threat.
Instead of just sitting in plush offices in Maseru, NAC officials should be deployed in the districts where the pandemic is rearing its ugly head.
According to recent official figures, 62 people are infected with HIV on a daily basis in Lesotho, while 50 deaths related to the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) also take place every day in the kingdom.
If these shocking statistics don’t rouse a nation to serious action, certainly nothing will.
Government needs to ensure that NAC sticks to its mandate of spearheading the harmonisation and alignment of the national response to HIV and AIDS. Lesotho needs NAC now more than ever considering that HIV/AIDS prevalence remains at a precarious high of 23 percent.
What NAC, government and all stakeholders cannot afford to do is to slacken or relax in the fight.
All stakeholders, including religious institutions and traditional leaders, need to redouble their efforts to stem the further spread of the disease.
As aptly noted by US Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington during the launch ceremony on Thursday, Lesotho cannot afford to fall short of the 90/90/90 goals in this five-year window.
“(Otherwise) Lesotho will face an expanding HIV epidemic that will outstrip the capacity of the country and development partners to respond. Time is now of the essence,” he said.