. . . as youths infection rate soars
HEALTH Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane says the high HIV/AIDS infection rates among youths were compromising the country’s efforts to meet the zero new infection target of 2030.
Addressing a press conference on Friday, Dr Monyamane said unless Lesotho quickly found ways to prevent new infections, the gains made in fighting the pandemic would be erased.
According to the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey, HIV incidence among women and men aged between 15-49 in Lesotho was 1.9 new infections per 100 person-years (PY) of exposure.
The survey, released on June 16, 2016, further revealed that young people in urban areas were more likely to be infected than those in rural areas (13 percent versus eight percent).
The study also noted Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate had increased from 23 to 25 percent with new HIV infections estimated at 52 people per day.
“HIV is a big problem for Lesotho, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure HIV patients are put on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. But we can’t deny the fact that new infection rates are headache,” he said.
The minister said it was therefore important for everyone involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS to join forces.
Dr Monyamane said organisations such as AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) were engaging young people to ensure they know about HIV/AIDS prevention services.
“We need to come up with new strategies to address the issue of high infection rates which are highest among the youth and adolescents,” he said, adding the media should also assist with youth-oriented strategies to stop new infections.
Dr Monyamane said Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) only reduced the risk of contracting the virus, hence the need to religiously use a condom regardless of being circumcised or not.
“We cannot take risks simply because VMMC reduces chances of contracting the virus. Forty percent of our youths know about HIV infection methods but we need to move to a point where there will be 100 percent coverage in order to meet the 2030 targets,” he said.
Meanwhile, AHF Medical Director Dr Tapiwa Tarumbiswa said high infection rates among the youth stemmed from socio-economic disparities.
He said young people were being forced to engage in intergenerational relationships for financial gain, in the process being deprived of a say over whether or not to engage in protective sex.
“It is no longer an issue of girls only. Older women are also engaging in intergenerational relationships with young boys and that puts them in danger of contracting the virus as well,” Dr Tarumbiswa said.
He said the other reasons for the high infection rates included lack of knowledge on prevention services and the limited number of health services providers.
He said this had prompted his organisation to take the services to the communities to ensure the reduction of new infection rates.
AHF Country Programme Manager ‘Mapaballo ‘Mile noted the youth were generally a category given to risk-taking behaviour, adding that it was unfortunate in most cases they took risks with their lives.
“This usually puts them in situations where they don’t have a say on safe sex practices because of financial gains, age and not being allowed to ask too many questions by their older partners,” Ms ‘Mile said.
AHF is a non-governmental organisation which began supporting HIV/AIDS treatment and care in 2013, opening the Katlehong LMPS Clinic in Maseru in 2014.
The clinic serves LMPS members, their families and the public.
Prevention services offered through the Katlehong clinic include HIV testing, free condom distribution, VMMC, counseling on reducing sexually-risky behavior, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV negative people who think they may have been exposed to the virus.