HEALTH Minister Dr Molotsi Monyane has lauded Vodacom Lesotho (VCL) for investing heavily in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Dr Monyamane made the remark yesterday during the launch of the telecommunications giant’s Moyo Lesotho Project at AVANI Lesotho Hotel. The Moyo Lesotho Project is an initiative of the Vodafone Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Health, USAID and global private partners such as Elton John AIDS Foundation, ViiV Healthcare and ELMA Philanthropies.
It is aimed at supporting children and pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS using Vodacom’s mobile technology to link them to much-needed care. The three-year programme is focused on the Leribe and Maseru districts which are most affected by the pandemic in the country.
Dr Monyane described the initiative as a “blessing to our country and to our health system.”
“I commend Vodacom for dedicating a huge amount of resources, workforce and expertise to an initiative that will improve the lives of its customers,” he said.
“As the Ministry of Health, we are extremely happy that these critical partnerships were formed. We have no doubt in our minds that the strong expertise that has been put around this project through these strong partnerships will result in a great impact in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Lesotho.”
Also present at the launch were various stakeholders who included the Chairman of the VCL board Matjato Moteane, Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Khotso Letsatsi, US Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington and Vodafone Foundation Head of Programmes Lee Wells.
On his part, Mr Moteane said it was heartening to see so many stakeholders working together to nip the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the bud.
“The Moyo Lesotho Project is a multi-million dollar effort led by the different stakeholders. Together we aim to double the number of HIV positive children on treatment in three years and to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV,” he said.
“We can achieve this by introducing several innovative mobile technologies as well as by funding improvements in the areas of patient to health centre linkages, the management and training of community health workers.
“Our mobile technology and M-Pesa platform have facilitated the bringing of life-saving services to communities in Lesotho and it is our aim and commitment to keep it growing.”
Since 2014, Mr Moteane said, Vodafone and VCL had been working very closely with other partners to build the programme and to identify the major challenges in assisting HIV-positive children.
“One simple but enormous barrier is the cost of travelling to get treatment. In 2015, we successfully integrated our M-Pesa mobile money system into patient referral processes so that money could be transferred to assist patients who need to travel to a health centre,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr Wells said the programme had made great strides since its inception in April 2015.
“We have seen an increase in the number of people getting treatment in the rural areas of Leribe and Maseru since last year. I attended a couple of facilitations and it was great to see people coming in large numbers and different ages; from as little as eight weeks to 80-year olds,” he said.
“In Lesotho, only 5 000 of 20 000 children living with HIV are getting treatment and we need the community to help us reach out to more children until we have decreased the rate of mortality by a great percentage.”
Ambassador Harrington said his country was proud to have injected $3 million to the public-private partnership that was changing lives.
“The United States is proud to be a close and dedicated partner in the fight against the HIV epidemic in Lesotho. We will continue to commit substantial resources and to work hand in hand with government, external partners and civil society in this critical struggle,” he said.
“Today we come together to celebrate an innovative approach to the fight against HIV. We are beginning to see glimmers of hope now after so many years of hard work and bad news. Lesotho has made some progress against HIV. In 2006 six percent of HIV-positive adults and children were on lifesaving treatment. A decade later that figure has risen to 40 percent.”
Mr Letsatsi also thanked Vodafone Foundation for their “tremendous foresight in addressing a common ailment that has been eating away at our society for decades”.
“Through this project, Vodacom is showing that the idea of technology being at the core of solving problems in our society is no myth. It is, in fact, true and we are seeing it here today with the unveiling of the innovative approach to addressing HIV and AIDS in our community,” he said.