LESOTHO managed to control HIV and AIDS infections through collaborative efforts from stakeholders like development partners, the government and clients, the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) has said.
This came out during a Thursday webinar held to celebrate Lesotho’s success in AIDS epidemic control by achieving the 90/90/90 targets. The webinar was attended by experts from EGPAF and the Ministry of Health.
In 2015, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) launched its final targets to drive progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic where by 2020; 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV would have received lifelong sustained antiretroviral (ART) therapy; 90 percent of all HIV positive people would be on treatment; and 90 percent of all people receiving ART should have suppressed their viral.
Last year, the Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) said that Lesotho had reached the 90/90/90 targets with the 90 percent of the population aware of its status, 97 percent of all HIV positive people being on treatment and 92 of those who are on treatment had successfully suppressed their viral load. The findings placed Lesotho on track to achieving the even more ambitious UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets by 2025.
According to EGPAF Lesotho communications and advocacy manager, ‘Makopano Letsatsi, Lesotho reached the feat only because of conscious collaborative efforts by all relevant stakeholders.
EGPAF country director Tsepang Mohlomi said that her organisation’s work in supporting the Ministry of Health towards controlling the HIV epidemic would not have been succeeded without the generous support of donors such as President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Ms Mohlomi said the Ministry of Health was instrumental in creating an enabling environment, favourable policies, infrastructure and other resources that were needed to achieve the targets.
“Reaching 90/90/90 targets would not have been possible without the cooperation of our clients and their willingness to take control of their health and wellbeing,” Ms Mohlomi said.
“There are other donors that were also instrumental in supporting HIV and tuberculosis (TB) among them the Global Fund, Untaid, Johnson & Johnson, Cepheid and the United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) who leveraged PEPFAR support to achieve 90/90/90 targets.”
In her presentation during the same event, EGPAF director of technical services, Esther Tumbare said among other interventions which drove Lesotho’s success, was the adaptation and adoption of the test and treat initiative in 2016.
Among others, she said the introduction of point of care (POC) early infant diagnosis in 2017, the client centered services (2017), the extending of POC to viral load monitoring for pregnant and breastfeeding women in 2020 and the revision of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PTMTCT) of HIV guidelines in 2021 were instrumental in achieving the 90/90/90 targets.
“Lesotho was one of the first countries in the region to adopt the test and treat initiative in July 2016, which proved to be a pivotal milestone towards attainment of the UNAIDS’ 90/90/90 targets,” Dr Tumbare said.
She said innovative approaches were implemented to enhance treatment access among them same day ART initiation at community level, migrant friendly services through border clinics, quick implementation of test and treat in women and male friendly clinics, children and adolescents peer clubs at adolescents’ corners as well as key the populations clinics programme for families and factory workers.
For her part, EGPAF programme director Mamello Sekese said to ensure retention of the people in care while also ensuring viral load suppression, they scaled up viral load monitoring through innovations such as POC for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Dr Sekese said follow-ups were done within 24 hours for missed appointments working with community partners while they also ensured that people living with HIV were transitioned to new improved optimised ARVs.
Also speaking during the same event, Ministry of Health director general of health services Lucy Mapota said her ministry’s objective is to reduce the mortality related to HIV incidences.
“Our role is to create a conducive environment for health care workers to deliver health services that are client-centered to people living with HIV in order to retain them in care.
“The Ministry of Health is excited to have reached the significant milestones of attaining the UNAIDS’ 90/90/90 targets with the support of our donors and partners,” Dr Mapota said.