Claims health officials in the Mafeteng district
MASERU – Famo music-related gangsterism has been labelled a catalytic agent for substance abuse, which is also linked to increased risk of HIV/Aids infection. Famo is an accordion-based popular Sesotho music, whose fame has frequently been shadowed by murderous vendettas between rival gangs, with the very musicians and their followers being the victims. The country has been rocked by famo-related killings and violence due to a bloody turf wars among the genre’s various gangs.
The groups often ridicule and insult each other in their songs, resulting in violent and often fatal clashes which have also claimed the lives of innocent people who have nothing to do with the music or battle for supremacy. Victims of some of the famo music gangs’ killings have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other places fearing for their lives due to ensuing fights among the genre’s various rival groups.
This behavior adds to unrelenting substance abuse, violence and unguarded sexual conduct in the communities in which members live – leading to inconceivable risks to their very own family members and friends. In Mafeteng, ‘famo’ gangs in the district are said to be a major contributing factor in making the Mafeteng district the highest hit in HIV infections in the country.
According to a LePHIA 2020 report, Mafeteng is at 24 percent of HIV infections, followed by Quthing with 23.9 percent. According to well-placed sources within the Mafeteng health sector, there are places where these famo gangs are largely found, and healthcare workers are not allowed to enter such villages to provide HIV services – and sometimes general health service delivery.
The sources further reveal that because of incessant gang wars that result in the killing of parents and husbands, many children are orphaned and women widowed – leading to poverty. Many female students living in rented hostels are also said to be reliant on older men who provide for their needs; and that this leads to promiscuity and eventual unprotected sex and STIs as well as HIV infection.
Another source told this publication that even in cases where pregnant women who have accepted their HIV positive status, when they inform their partners about the status the men reject the results and the positive status – and further discourage the women from taking medication, which has become a trend among the gangsters.
“They also demand that their wives be given only pregnancy services and postnatal services, and not HIV services,” the source said. It is also said that it is rare in these areas for a gang member to openly admit to being HIV positive because they do not want that kind of information getting out.
Makhoza Zwane from the EGPAF, said in a separate interview that the other factor contributing to high infection is poverty, which is exposing young women and girls to transact sex with older men in for money (sex work). She said poverty also drives girls and women to exchange sex for food, and to resort to sex work for survival.
“We have young adults who end up doing sex work to make ends meet, some because of their peers,” she said. Poverty increases the risks of HIV/Aids when it propels the unemployed into unskilled migratory labour pools in search of temporary and seasonal work, which increases the risk of HIV/Aids.
Nkalimeng Lekonyana, PrEP coordinator in the district of Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek, said some of the challenges which may lead to HIV infections in the district include low PrEP demand, where the communities do not want to know about PrEP services that are offered within their communities, while some do not want to take treatment when they are not sick.
She said there is also an increase number of missed appointments, and because of migration, their clients move from one place to another, making it hard to reach them, as they give wrong physical addresses and wrong contact numbers. She said: “Some parents discard PrEP, because they think that we encourage their children to have sex at any age.”
Before giving treatment to their clients, there is a screening tool, where they screen them for eligibility, and they test if they are HIV negative, then they give PrEP. Despite the tremendous efforts made, HIV epidemic continues to be public health threat and one of the leading causes of death. Compared with young people not involved in gangs, gang members engage in greater sexually risky behaviors.