HIV/AIDS a reality of our present
AS Lesotho joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Aids Day on Monday, it is disconcerting to note that the scourge is nowhere near defeated, but is continuing to wreak havoc in our society.
The World UNAIDS 2014 report states that in 2013 alone, there were 26 000 new HIV infections and with the current rate of new infections Lesotho is on its way to overtaking Swaziland as number one in terms of HIV prevalence.
We all stand guilty, as a nation, of getting preoccupied with the goings on in our body politic at the expense of fundamental issues such as our health and service delivery systems.
Among the plethora of reasons the disease is undergoing another resurgence is the glamorisation of amorous activities such as the phenomenon of “Ben-10s” whereby young men and women have unprotected sex with older people spurred by financial incentives.
For some sections of our society, it has become fashionable to be promiscuous despite messages disseminated ad nauseam about the perils of unprotected sex.
According to the Ministry of Health’s Disease Control Department Psychologist, ’Moelo Sehlabaka-ramahlele, the strides made in treatment whereby those with the disease are no longer easily seen to be ill, have inadvertently fostered a carefree attitude resulting in the disease spreading even further.
As a result, she says, people are no longer afraid of the disease and are not changing their behaviour.
While the government deserves commendation for initiatives made so far to prevent and manage the HIV/AIDS pandemic –– such as immediate treatment for those who test positive and providing treatment to prevent infection from an Hiv-positive mother to her baby –– the upward spike in infections is a clear indicator that a lot more needs to be done.
The Global Aids Progress report identified 12 groups of people being left behind in HIV and Aids education, thereby accelerating the spread.
These groups include people living with HIV, adolescent girls and young women, prisoners, migrants, people who inject themselves with narcotic drugs, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with others, transgender women and men, children and pregnant women living with HIV, displaced persons, people with disabilities and people aged 50 years and above.`
Gross economic inequality and corruption are also contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS as studies have shown extreme poverty, as prevalent in Lesotho, stimulates risky behaviours that are responsible for HIV transmission, create obstacles to prevention, and impede efforts to cope with the impact of the epidemic.
Poverty and food insecurity are thought to increase sexual risk taking, particularly among women who may engage in transactional sex to procure food for themselves and their children. It is no wonder that the “Ben 10” phenomenon has taken hold.
It is clear that the incoming government, post the February 2015 election, has a mammoth task ahead of it. However, whatever government will be installed will neither have the means nor mechanisms to scale the pandemic back in an effective manner.
The dysfunction that has characterised this country’s politics in the preceding years has to come to an end if there is even an inkling of hope to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS.
The media and other social institutions have a pivotal role to play in bringing behavioural issues back on the agenda.
We have all slackened under the erroneous assumption the HIV/AIDS is now a thing of the past when it still remains a part of our present and may remain so until concrete action is made.
Merely commemorating World Aids Day will not reduce the infection and mortality rates but a multipronged approach which tackles the causative factors for the disease’s prevalence.