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‘Butha-Buthe’s high HIV prevalence worrying’

Limpho Sello

NATIONAL AIDS Commission officials are gravely concerned by the rise in HIV and AIDS infections in Butha-Buthe as reflected in the latest Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA 2020) report.

According to the report, HIV prevalence in Butha-Buthe increased from 17, 5 percent in 2017 to 18, 8 percent in 2020. During the same period, the national HIV prevalence declined from 25, 6 percent to 22, 7 percent during the same period.

All in all, there are 324 000 people living with HIV and AIDS in Lesotho. Despite the significant decline in the national prevalence rate, it is the increase in Butha-Buthe’s infections which has got NAC officials worried.

Addressing a recent capacity building workshop, NAC’s monitoring and evaluation officer, Hlompho Motsoasele, said while Butha-Buthe had a lower prevalence rate than other districts, they were nonetheless worried that the infection rate had marginally increased by 1,3 percent from 17, 5 percent in 2017 to 18, 8 percent in 2020.

Mr Motsoasele said the increase, even if marginal, was a clear indication that something had gone wrong in the district’s fight against the pandemic.

He said the situation could worsen given that new factories would soon open in the district and create up to 15 000 new jobs.

He said there were several drivers of the HIV/AIDS pandemic including poverty, unemployment, low condom usage and multiple concurrent sex partners.

“The HIV prevalence remains high in high-risk populations that include garment workers and other factory workers,” Mr Motsoasele said.

“Experts have cited that factory workers earn low incomes and this forces them to explore other means of generating extra incomes (including commercial sex work) to survive. Their infection rate is currently at 43, 3 percent.

“I am giving this information because I want us to learn and understand where we are as a district and what could be causing this (spike in infections). We have to find ways to address the challenges in order to bring HIV under control,” Mr Motsoasele said, adding strategies were needed to achieve their goal of eliminating HIV by 2030.

Addressing the same workshop, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) official, Thabo Lebaka, said they had found that there was a challenge in providing patients with condoms to help fight the pandemic in the district.

“Condom usage is not being included in the health education for patients as was previously the case.

“Even where they are availed, condoms are being placed where the patients cannot access them freely. There are no distributors and this poses a challenge to distribution at a community level,” Mr Lebaka said.

On his part, Butha-Buthe district administrator, Tsepa Chaba, said ever since the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, more emphasis had been placed on fighting the new scourge.

This had caused HIV and AIDS issues to take a back seat, thus increasing the   HIV prevalence, Mr Chaba said.

“Such workshops are very important to enable us to reflect on where we are as a district in our fight against HIV. We have to work harder and regularly meet to introspect and map up district plans to control HIV infections,” Mr Chaba added.

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