THE Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) has begun distributing condoms in male prisons throughout the country as part of efforts to stem the tide of HIV infections that are said to be on the increase in the correctional facilities.
LCS health officials told the Lesotho Times that 31 percent of the men and 69 percent of the women in the correctional facilities were living with HIV.
They said the high figures highlighted the need for effective and innovative HIV-management programmes, including the strengthening of preventive and treatment strategies.
Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa who is based at the Maseru Central correctional facility, said that even though prisoners were not allowed conjugal rights, they had come up with unconventional decision to distribute 300 condoms on a weekly basis because “a lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers”.
He said the prevalence of sodomy could not be discounted hence the placement of condoms in the correctional facilities.
“While unnatural sexual acts are prohibited, we cannot deny or pretend these acts do not happen,” Superintendent Lebitsa said, adding, “Therefore, we make condoms available for prevention”.
The need to strengthen prevention and HIV educational programmes became more critical in the early 2000s after the LCS realised that some inmates who had tested HIV-negative on admission, became positive at a later stage, the Lesotho Times also learnt.
Health personnel ensure those who test positive for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) receive counselling and are immediately placed on treatment including antiretroviral treatment, Superintendent Lebitsa said.
Superintendent Lebitsa further said that apart from HIV, other common STIs among male inmates at Maseru Central are genital warts and gonorrhoea.
Lesotho is one of the countries battling a high HIV prevalence rate which currently stands at 25 percent, the second-highest in the world after Swaziland.
In recent years, Lesotho has adopted various initiatives as part of efforts to achieve the United Nations’ 90-90-90 AIDS targets by 2020.
The 90-90-90 Strategy advocates for commitment by governments to ensure that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
Among Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS initiatives are the Know Your Status; Prevention of Mother to Child (PMTC); and Test and Treat campaigns.
The country also undertook the Lesotho Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) to measure the impact of these campaigns and the study revealed huge progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS and surpassed the second of the 90-90-90 treatment targets.
LePHIA is a nationally representative study led by the government through the Ministry of Health, with funding and technical support from the US government through PEPFAR, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ICAP at Colombia University.