Activist crystallizes health with climate change



Human health has been greatly affected by the impact of climate change across the globe in recent times. To explore more about how the two are intertwined, Public Eye reporter ’MATHATISI SEBUSI (PE) spoke to an advocate for people living with HIV who is also a member of climate change committee at EGPAF Lesotho ’MATSOTANG MOSOLA (MM). Mosola believes that poor environmental health is going to affect people mostly farmers mentally and financially. This, she says, after witnessing people losing the produce they solely depend on for survival due to extreme weather conditions. She notes that capacity building is needed to help encourage behavioral change and also aligning scientific knowledge with indigenous knowledge. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

PE: What are your memories growing up, those that you would say impacted on your outlook towards life?

MM: My best memories growing up has to be salon dates with my father. The relationship I have with him has everything to do with who I am today and how I handle myself in situations I come across.

PE: What has been your most favourite moment or experience in your life?

MM: Giving birth to my son, abuti Hlalefang Mosola, breast-feeding and bathing him are my favourite and most remarkable.

PE: Let’s talk about ’Matsotang the HIV advocate. Have you always been passionate about advocating for HIV and what does sexual health rights mean to you?

MM: I must say I got it all from my mother who was a nurse She would always talk about how much she enjoys her job, do school health talks as a hobby and could always teach us about loving our bodies and caring well for it.

PE: Please tell us about your HIV advocacy journey, when and how did it start?

MM: My advocacy journey started when I applied for a job at Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) Lesotho in 2017. It has been a beautiful and very fulfilling journey since.

PE: What motivated you to start the advocacy job?

MM: My mother has always been one of my cheerleaders. She has been the driving force behind it all. I mean she helped me prepare for my interview and I nailed it.

PE: You have recently been endorsed as EGPF’s climate change committee member and environmental health representative, please tell us about this appointment, how it came about and what it means?

MM: There was an email that was sent out to all EGPAF staff about how the foundation will be conducting research and endorsing issues of climate change. When I read the mail I immediately knew I wanted to be part of it because I was curious as to how climate change affects our health.

PE: As a climate change committee member and environmental health representative, what does your work entail?

MM: My work pretty much entails research, initiatives on climate change, and learning about behavioral patterns that could help change our mentality around and about climate change.

PE: As an HIV advocate, what motivated you to take the climate change route?

MM:  Like I said, curiosity really just got the better of me. I was kind of clueless but very eager to learn, so I put myself out there.

PE: How does health and climate change intertwine?

MM: Climate change and HIV actually represent two of the greatest threats to human health. Climate change may affect our health and well-being through the impacts of extreme events (weather conditions) worsening air quality (air pollution), all of these causing changes in the spread of infectious disease, threats to food and water quality.

This pretty much summarizes the relationship between the two. Interest in research and prior findings can help understand more.

PE: Lesotho has for years been capacitating its people on climate change to ensure that they are resilient and adapt to climate change impacts. However, impacts still outweigh efforts. The question is what could be the cause of this and how can the country tackle climate change issues for high impact?

MM: Sensitization activities are key to ensuring that the behavior of communities and people changes.

PE: Climate change stakeholders have been complaining that non-collaboration between stakeholders is the reason the country is not making the desired impacts. They say people have lost interest in climate change topics due to hearing the same thing from different stakeholders. What do you say about this? Do you think collaboration will help the country achieve more in terms of climate change capacitation and resilience?

MM: Collaboration will help a lot because it will cure information fatigue as the end-users of information will be tired of hearing different information. Collaboration will bring about togetherness and collectively become one voice. The involvement of all stakeholders also assures our communities that this is a group effort, forcing them to also easily adjust to behavioral changes.

PE: What do you think is the best and interesting way to capacitate people, especially youth, about climate change?

MM: There is no better way to capacitate a young person than to involve them. Young people always want to feel like they are being heard and in charge.

PE: Now let’s talk of ’Matsotang, the climate change committee member and HIV advocate, what are your ambitions in these areas, what do you aim to achieve by helping the country address the effects of climate change and HIV?

MM: My ambitions are simple really, to build a generation that is well informed and educated on the issues of HIV and planetary health. This will definitely secure a better tomorrow in the health sector.

PE: How would you rate the country’s efforts towards addressing climate change issues and sexual health rights, especially HIV. Do you think the country is doing enough or should it try hard?

MM: We are all a work in progress and so is our country. Remember that it takes effort also to put these issues out there for the country to actually recognize them, with that said I am hopeful for even much greater effort.

PE: Are there any areas you think the country should focus most on?

MM:  The country definitely needs to put more effort on planetary health. Planetary health is the evolution of climate change, remembering that human health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked. 

PE: What contributions can you say you personally made towards capacitating Basotho on climate change and advocating for their sexual health rights?

MM: Being the voice of young people and involving them in issues of climate change and HIV by always engaging them in conversations to me is the biggest way of capacitating young people.

PE: What are some of the achievements that you pride yourself in?

MM: Advocating for young people living with HIV.

PE: Speak about the challenges in your line of work?

MM: I could go on and on about challenges but what journey does not have really? I still think stigma around HIV is still very rife.

PE: Can you say Basotho are informed on the issues of climate change and how it relates to their health? Why?

MM: See, that’s a very difficult one, but I would like to say that we are really getting there.

PE: Where did you go to school and what skills can you say help you daily in your line of work to ensure that you offer your services at your very best?

MM: I went to UNICOM High School in Tweespriut, South Africa. I was a boarding student so being away from my parents every day and adjusting to a new culture altogether was hard but I still thrived. I met people that believed in me more than I believed in myself. I met people who saw me as family. That was the best feeling ever and the reason I give my best to others.

PE: Please tell us about your background, what kind of a child were you when growing up and what career route did you want to take then?

MM: Growing up I was a daddy’s girl. Well, and I still am. I was very stubborn but also very soft on the inside. Growing up I wanted to be a quantity surveyor but trust me till today I don’t know what drew me to it.

PE: Where do you see yourself in five years?

MM: I definitely see myself running my own NGO and I also have a passion for opening up an elementary school. But God willing both will become to reality.

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