EUROPEAN Union (EU) Ambassador Michael Doyle says the bloc is committed to stepping up the pace in the fight against HIV/AIDS in through a range of programmes and activities.
Dr Doyle made the remarks during the EU Delegation’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Raising Day held on Tuesday at the embassy offices in Maseru. He said this year’s theme, “Stepping up the pace in the fight against HIV/AIDS”, had been chosen to “serve as a reminder to everyone to increase the momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS”.
The ambassador said the HIV/AIDS Awareness Raising Day demonstrated the EU’s commitment in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
“This year marks the fifth consecutive year that we hold an EU HIV/AIDS awareness raising day. As in previous years, we have made available voluntary counselling and testing,” said Dr Doyle.
“Knowing your status is very important as a person diagnosed with HIV can receive anti-retroviral treatment and is less likely to transmit the virus to others.”
He said the EU was one of the main supporters of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It also funded the Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS (ALAFA) project to the tune of €3 million (M45 million) to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on the employees of the textile industry.
“In addition to the Global Fund and the ALAFA project, the EU’s other contribution in the fight against HIV/AIDS has been through its support to the Child Grants Programme run by the Ministry of Social Development with the technical assistance of UNICEF,” said Dr Doyle. “This programme provides for child grants and accompanying activities that cover the areas of health, nutrition, education, food security and HIV prevention, with many of the beneficiaries being orphans and vulnerable children.”
In a speech read on her behalf by the Ministry of Health’s Director Primary Healthcare Thabelo Ramatlapeng, the ministry’s Director-General Disease Control Nyane Letsie said government and other stakeholders were working to establish a coordinated response to the HIV and TB epidemics.
“HIV and AIDS continue to pose a threat to Lesotho’s economic development, with the highest HIV incidence and prevalence in the world,” said Dr Letsie.
“In 2012, the annual incidence was estimated at 2.47 percent among adults aged 15-49 years and HIV prevalence at 23 percent. The prevalence is higher in urban (27.2 percent) compared to (21.1 percent) in rural areas.
“Among young people aged 20-24 years HIV prevalence is estimated at 16.3 percent. The most affected age group is 30-39 years with the prevalence of (+40 percent). Overall HIV prevalence is higher in women (26.7 percent) compared to men (18 percent).”
She said the challenge lay in the fact that new HIV infections of 17 000 annually surpassed the number of newly-enrolled HIV positive clients into antiretroviral treatment.
“Today we are facing an epidemic which has stabilised at very high levels in this country. Although there has been noticeable decline of incidence, the level is still too high to realise the Millennium Development Goals of 2015,” Dr Letsie said.
“However, the challenge posed by both HIV and TB is cross cutting and requires multi-sectoral approach to achieve set targets. The Ministry of Health is therefore working with other ministries, development partners, and multiple stakeholders to establish a coordinated response to the HIV and TB epidemics. HIV and AIDS have had and continue to have a major impact on the health work force capacity in Lesotho.
“It contributes to loss of valuable health care providers through death and absenteeism and increases work stress and burnout which in turn leads to poor performance.”
She said among the interventions the ministry had embarked on to stem the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB included the development, launch and review of the road map for acceleration of reduction of maternal and new-born mortality, deployment of additional doctors and nurses from outside the country, and provision of incentives for village health workers.