HIV more prevalent in women than men

LINEO MABEKEBEKE

MASERU – A comprehensive HIV prevention programme focused on preventing HIV transmission and improved access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, information and services along the country’s three porous borders of Maseru, Maputsoe and Mafeteng took a tour of the Maseru Border Gate. Aptly named ‘Along The Borders’, the initiative is a Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA) project supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Project Youth Officer, Lebeoana Kholokholo, says through UNFPA support they are able to play a role in trying to contain the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Kholokholo said there is still high prevalence among women than men, which he said is one of the things they as LPPA are trying to tackle as they serve three groups of people; long distance drivers, sex workers and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex and Queeer (LGBTIQ+) along these borders.

In order to reduce HIV statistics, he said, they are currently running three programmes along the three borders, which are condom programming, making sure that their clients are making use of condoms, behaviour change where they engage clients to see a change in behaviour that will lead to reducing HIV, and the referrals on the integrated services where their peer educators are referring the clients to the LPPA clinic. He said since the emergence of Covid-19, they were short in numbers on the target that they wanted to reach, especially when it comes to long distance drivers because movements were restricted.

“Even though this year there is a significant change in terms of the target reached, we are able to distribute condoms and pamphlets giving out information to them,” he added. UNFPA, in collaboration with LPPA, has initiated a project on preventing HIV transmission and improved access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), information and services along Lesotho’s three borders of Maputsoe, Maseru and Mafeteng.

These are the busiest borders which are deemed highly porous and catalytic to transmission of new HIV infections, hence the project is targeting migrants, long distance truck drivers, youth and key populations along these borders. This is done in a bid to intensify efforts towards preventing HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among high risk populations such as key populations, migrants and youth.

Thapelo Maja, a peer educator working on the project, said through the condom programming initiative, they organise condom campaigns, making people aware of the correct, consistent use of condoms. What they usually encourage to their key populations which include long distance truck drivers, sex workers and LGBTIQ+, she said, is to give them an opportunity to have integrated services from LPPA.

“I guess they prefer LPPA because of the services they get which are non-judgemental and they get all the services without really coming back for the same service because they are one-stop services,” she highlighted. The Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA 2020) report shows that Lesotho is doing well on overall programming, and the HIV programme in reaching HIV infected people is running successfully.

UNFPA County Representative, Dr Marc Derveew said he is concerned about what is going to happen with young people’s future with new infections. It is also of concern to LPPA where there are still new infections, youth escaping Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), not having the awareness of how to protect themselves and not having access to condoms. There are young girls getting infected with HIV who do not know their statuses.

He said he is concerned that antiretrovirals are expensive and the prevention agenda has been reduced to PrEP and male circumcision, but very little attention goes to behaviour change. The reason they wanted to partner with LPPA, he said, is because they want to increase the attention going to the prevention by reaching high risk groups. LPPA and UNFPA toured the Maseru border post to get to know the benefits and the problems of peer educators in their line of work.

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