THE Association of Lesotho Employers and Business (ALEB) on Friday elected an interim committee to spearhead the Fast Track initiative which seeks to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
ALEB is a union of employers established in 1961 to facilitate dialogue between the government, employers and employees through their trade unions.
According to ALEB CEO, Lindiwe Sephomolo, the newly-elected committee would formulate a strategy for the Fast Track initiative to be implemented by January 2016 at the latest. The committee comprises members of ALEB, the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho, Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the Independent Medical Practitioners Association of Lesotho.
Advocate Sephomolo said the committee would identify the key areas the initiative could be employed in the workplace and other environments.
In September 2014, UNAIDS embarked on the second phase of a worldwide strategy termed Fast Track that seeks to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The Fast Track initiative proposes rapid and massive acceleration of HIV prevention and treatment programmes with a people-centred approach for ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The new set of targets that would need to be reached by 2020 include achieving 90-90-90: 90 percent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment; and 90 percent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.
Other targets include reducing the annual number of new HIV infections by more than 75 percent to 500 000 in 2020, and achieving zero discrimination. The targets are based on an approach to leaving no one behind especially populations at higher risk of acquiring HIV. These include sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who use drugs. Under Fast Track, these groups should receive assistance regardless of where they live or the legal status of their behaviour.
In her remarks, UNAIDS Country Director in Lesotho, Alti Zwandor, said applying the Fast Track initiative would avert new HIV infections and deaths.
Lesotho’s HIV-prevalence rate has remained stagnant at 23 percent but leapfrogged Botswana into second position because of the latter’s successes in lowering its prevalence rate from the previous 24.8 percent. Swaziland’s HIV-prevalence is 26 percent.
“Lesotho has to move away from a business as usual approach to adopt robust measures to abate the epidemic,” said Dr Zwandor.
“We have been operating at a much slower pace than other African countries and if it continues at this rate, 20 years from now there might be no nation to speak of.
“The Fast Track initiative is the only opportunity we have for the country to focus on a five year window of opportunities starting from January 2016 and ending in December 2020.”
She also stressed the need for a people-oriented approach by recognising and assisting vulnerable members of society.
“This is not the time to pretend that we do not have sex workers in our midst, MSMs (Men having sex with men) and young people who are not accessing services,” Dr Zwandor said.
“Fast Track enables more creative ways of delivering services and leads to the unpacking of what a community system consists of. For instance, we need to find ways to bring together policies and science to address structural issues of injustices and social behaviour instead of continuing to have a business as usual approach.”
She continued: “We must shift from donor dependency to donor partnership because there are plenty of donors who are ready to invest in the health sector.
“Lesotho has invested so much already but has very little results to show for it.”
Dr Zwandor further noted that Lesotho had regressed in many areas with the exception of mother to child transmission (MTCT) among women taking anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs).
“A 2011 study showed 19 000 new HIV infections that year with 84 percent of women knowing their status as opposed to 66 percent of men,” she said.
“The study revealed that comprehensive and correct knowledge of HIV existed among 29 percent of men and 39 percent of women.
“On a positive note, it also showed that the risk of MTCT among HIV-infected pregnant women on ARVs was drastically reduced from over 95 percent in 2011 to 72 percent in 2014.”