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HIV spike likely in Butha-Buthe: NAC

Moorosi Tsiane

THE National Aids Commission (NAC) has warned of a likely rise in HIV prevalence in Butha-Buthe once the Ha-Belo industries start operating.

The warning was issued by NAC communications and advocacy officer, Mzondase Tsepane, during a week-long workshop in Butha-Buthe. The workshop was meant to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS in Butha-Buthe. It ran from Tuesday to Friday.

The Ha-Belo industries are expected to be opened in December 2021 and the prediction is that this will also result in an increase in the population of sexually active people.

Bankrolled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the workshop was facilitated by the Health Ministry and the Butha-Buthe District Health Management Team (DHMT), Local Government and Chieftainship ministry, Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation ministry, the NAC and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA).

Among the participants were young women, councillors, chiefs, traditional healers, initiation school owners and people from different religious persuasions.

According to the Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) 2020, Butha-Buthe has the least HIV prevalence in the country at 18, 8 percent.

“This year’s LePHIA report has shown that Butha-Buthe remains at the bottom in HIV prevalence. However, the LePHIA 2017 report and the Comprehensive HIV Epidemiological Analysis in Lesotho 2018 have taught us that there is a huge HIV burden among factory workers,” Ms Tsepane said.

“We therefore saw the need to raise awareness to avoid such challenges because if these industries will employ 15 000 people, there are going to be many challenges.

“So, we wanted to equip the Butha-Buthe community with means and ways to avoid the increase in the number of infections.”

Another group that is likely to be at risk is young women with multiple concurrent sexual partners.

“Due to the low wages at the industries, young female workers end up having concurrent sexual partners. Chances are that there might also be an increase in gender-based violence as the number of people living in the district is going to increase.

“Our target is that by 2030, we should not be having any new HIV infections and that is why we are trying to be proactive.”

Butha-Buthe district administrator, Tšepa Chaba, hailed the move saying it was important that they prepare for a surge in HIV cases beforehand.

“Once the industries open, there will be an influx of people and that will bring with it many challenges. It is important for us to prepare and raise awareness. It is good that community leaders are being trained because it will be easy for messages to cut across all over the district,” Mr Chaba said.

He added that they would work with other stakeholders to mobilise the relevant personnel in preparation for the opening of the industries.

“If over 15 000 people are expected to be working in the industries, that means we must increase staffing in different sectors so that the virus does not get out of control.

“Our health professionals have so far shown a lot of commitment and I am hopeful that they can do the job but we must increase numbers. We have committed staff at DHMT.

“I also think the most important part is to create awareness about the issues and avoid stigmatisation. We are also expecting an influx of sex workers, so we must be vigilant,” Mr Chaba said.

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