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PM warns AIDS Commission

by Sunday Express
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Limpho Sello

PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili says the National AIDS Commission (NAC) should devote the bulk of its budget to fighting the pandemic and not staff salaries.

Dr Mosisili made the remarks on Thursday in Maseru while relaunching the commission at a ceremony attended by senior government officials, diplomats and development partners, among others.

NAC was initially established in 2005 with the mandate of developing and coordinating strategies for controlling and combating HIV/AIDS. However, a study undertaken by Deloitte & Touché Auditors of South Africa to evaluate the organisation’s performance in relation to its administrative costs, found that it had become a burden to taxpayers. The audit also revealed that the commission had deviated from its core mandate.

After the damning report, government disbanded the commission in 2011, saying it would establish a more effective coordinating body with clearly defined functional parameters.

Announcing the new board, Dr Mosisili said the NAC should be lean and efficient to ensure Lesotho gains lost ground in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Before NAC was disbanded, the country’s HIV-prevalence rate was third in the world behind Swaziland and Botswana respectively, although it was already at its current 23 percent.

However, Lesotho has since leapfrogged Botswana into second position, while Swaziland leads the pack at 26 percent and Botswana is now at 19 percent.

The new NAC board is chaired by Reverend Tšeliso Masemene, and also comprises Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, Advocate ‘Matšoana Fanana, Mpho Vumbukani, Bakoena Chele, Makhabiso Ramphoma, ‘Maseabata Ramathebane, Manapo Tetsoane, Malefetsane Liau and Reverend Kenny Ntoane.

The premier said the commission would need all the support it could get given the task at hand.

“The NAC board will need support from all stakeholders to function effectively and efficiently. As government, we assure them of our full support as they begin their work,” said Dr Mosisili.

“However, government alone cannot achieve these objectives. We need all hands on deck, from civil society organisations, development partners, faith-based organisations, chiefs and politicians to the general public.

“That’s the only way we can ensure the monster called HIV/AIDS is finally subdued.”

The premier further said government disbanded the previous NAC and its secretariat because it had become too costly, yet it was not generating any revenue.

“So as we resuscitate NAC, it should use the bulk of its resources for the people it is meant to serve. I cannot overemphasize the importance of that factor,” Dr Mosisili said.

“There was a need for a comprehensive, inclusive and people-centered programme of action to intensify our fight against HIV/AIDS, hence government’s decision to resuscitate NAC.”

The premier noted despite the huge investment made into the fight against the pandemic, many lives were still being lost to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses.

“Regrettably, we continue to see babies born infected with HIV even after the launch of prevention of mother to child transmission programmes,” he said.

“Why this is continuing should be a question we need to ponder on, and it is one of the challenges facing the NAC.”

Dr Mosisili said stakeholders needed to go the “extra mile” to ensure Basotho make use of free HIV/AIDS testing and medication facilities.

“As part of our HIV/ AIDS response, we plan to focus on and invest in high-impact interventions, targeting the most vulnerable groups and pay special attention to geographical areas that have a high disease burden,” he said.

“We plan to intensify our social and behavioral change communication initiatives to enable our people to make informed decisions about their health and sexuality.

“The challenge ahead for all of us is to fully understand the current health situation, commit to a turnaround strategy, and be accountable for the interventions by all leaders at national, district and community level.”

In his remarks US Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington, said the re-establishment of NAC was a “step forward” in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Ambassador Harrington further said a lean, dynamic and high-performing NAC would play an indispensable role in the HIV/AIDS response.

“By bringing together all stakeholders, we expect NAC to provide strategic leadership, coordination, transparency and accountability, all of which are essential to making more progress in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Ambassador Harrington.

“It is our hope that with effective and inspired leadership, NAC will maximise impact and eliminate any duplication by strengthening the coordination of government and development partner efforts.

“We also hope NAC will bridge communication and planning gaps among ministries so that government’s response is both comprehensive and cohesive.”

Stakeholders in the fight against HIV/AIDS were focused “like a laser” on achieving the 90/90/90 Fast Track goals by 2020, he added.

Under the treatment target, 90 percent of all people living with HIV would know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV would receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy would have viral suppression.

“With the NAC’s help, we can get there.  In fact, we must get there.   Because if we don’t, if we fall short of those 90/90/90 goals in this five-year window, 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,” Ambassador Harrington said, adding the United States was a “close and dedicated partner” of Lesotho in the fight against the epidemic.

“We have been by your side for nearly a decade and will continue to commit substantial resources and work hand in hand with government, other external partners, and civil society in this critical effort,” the envoy said.

Representing civil society organisations (CSOs), Reverend Mojela Mafike said cooperation between CSOs and the government would strengthen the multi-sectoral HIV/AIDS response.

He said funds for NAC could be mobilised by following what Botswana and Zimbabwe did when they introduced  alcohol and AIDS levies, respectively.

“We also applaud government’s commitment to allocate two-percent of its budget to HIV/AIDS. Our request is for this allocation to be provided as a resource hub for the National AIDS Commission,” Reverend Mafike said.

 

 

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