Le­sotho tops con­dom us­age rank­ing

Lesotho Times - - News - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

LE­SOTHO leads coun­tries in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa in terms of con­dom use among women be­tween the ages 15 – 24 years; a sign the coun­try is mak­ing strides to­wards pre­vent­ing new HIV in­fec­tions.

This is ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued this week by the Joint United Na­tions Pro­gramme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Namibia ahead of an­nual World AIDS Day com­mem­o­ra­tions on 1 De­cem­ber.

Ti­tled “Get on the Fast-track: The life-cy­cle ap­proach to HIV”, the re­port con­tains de­tailed data on the com­plex­i­ties of HIV and re­veals that girls’ tran­si­tion to wom­an­hood is a very dan­ger­ous time, par­tic­u­larly in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa.

The re­port, which was launched by Namibia Pres­i­dent Hage Gein­gob and UNAIDS Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Michel Sidibé in Wind­hoek, also shows that the life-ex­tend­ing im­pact of treat­ment is work­ing. Coun­tries are get­ting on what UNAIDS refers to as the fast track to end­ing the AIDS epi­demic by 2030, with an ad­di­tional one mil­lion peo­ple hav­ing ac­cessed treat­ment from Jan­uary to June.

By June 2016, some 18.2 mil­lion peo­ple were on life-sav­ing medicines, in­clud­ing 910 000 chil­dren — dou­ble the num­ber of five years ear­lier. UNAIDS also states that 18.2 mil­lion peo­ple now have ac­cess to HIV treat­ment, say­ing that the fast-track re­sponse was work­ing.

The re­port re­veals that 80 per­cent of Ba­sotho women aged be­tween 15-24 years re­ported us­ing a con­dom dur­ing their last sex­ual en­counter with a non-reg­u­lar part­ner in the 12 months prior to the sur­vey.

When used con­sis­tently and cor­rectly, con­doms are highly ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing the sex­ual trans­mis­sion of HIV. Le­sotho’s Hiv-preva­lence is the se­cond high­est in the world at 25 per­cent.

The re­port calls for con­dom avail­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity to be rolled out in com­bi­na­tion with pro­mot­ing and en­hanc­ing women’s abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate con­dom use.

“Nearly a quar­ter of women aged 15–49 years in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa had an un­met need for fam­ily plan­ning in 2015. Pow­er­ful new tools for HIV pre­ven­tion such as pre-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis (PEP) re­main un­der­utilised,” reads the re­port.

The re­port also re­veals that Le­sotho was among the six eastern and south­ern African coun­tries ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­cline in new in­fec­tions among chil­dren aged be­tween 0-14 years.

Mr Sidibe said ado­les­cence was a tur­bu­lent time and a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous time for young women liv­ing in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa.

“As they tran­si­tion to adult­hood, their risk of be­com­ing in­fected with HIV in­creases dra­mat­i­cally,” he said.

“When women and girls are em­pow­ered, they have the means to pro­tect them­selves from be­com­ing in­fected with HIV and to ac­cess HIV ser­vices. No one should be left be­hind through the life-cy­cle ap­proach.”

He stressed that vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties — such as sex work­ers, peo­ple who take drugs in­tra­venously, men who have sex with men, pris­on­ers and mi­grants — needed ac­cess to the HIV treat­ment and pre­ven­tion op­tions that best meet their needs.

In­creas­ing treat­ment cov­er­age, Mr Sidibe said, was re­duc­ing Aids-re­lated deaths among adults and chil­dren; adding that the life-cy­cle ap­proach had to in­clude more than just treat­ment.

“Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis (TB) re­mains among the com­mon­est causes of ill­ness and death among peo­ple liv­ing with HIV of all ages, caus­ing about one third of Aids-re­lated deaths in 2015. These deaths could and should have been pre­vented,” he said.

“TB, like cer­vi­cal can­cer, hep­ati­tis C and other ma­jor causes of ill­ness and death among peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, is not al­ways de­tected in HIV ser­vices.”

Mr Sidibe also noted that drug re­sis­tance was one of the ma­jor threats to the AIDS re­sponse, not just for an­tiretro­vi­ral medicines but also for the an­tibi­otic and anti-tu­ber­cu­lous medicines that peo­ple liv­ing with HIV fre­quently need to re­main healthy.

“More peo­ple than ever be­fore are in need of se­cond- and third-line medicines for HIV and TB. The hu­man bur­den of drug re­sis­tance is al­ready un­ac­cept­able; the fi­nan­cial costs will soon be un­sus­tain­able.

“We need to make sure the medicines we have today are put to best use, and ac­cel­er­ate and ex­pand the search for new treat­ments, di­ag­nos­tics, vac­cines and an HIV cure.”

He also called on world lead­ers, part­ners, ac­tivists, com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple liv­ing with HIV to get on the fast-track to end this epi­demic.

Con­tacted for com­ment, Na­tional Aids Com­mis­sion (NAC) Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Ker­atile Tha­bana said they were yet to study the re­port.

“Per­son­ally I have not seen the re­port and I wouldn’t want to com­ment from the top of my head. Once we have stud­ied the re­port, we would com­ment on its find­ings,” Ms Tha­bana said.

In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view, Christian Coun­cil of Le­sotho (CCL) Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Khosi Makubakube said while the high con­dom us­age was a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment, it was dis­con­cert­ing that girls as young as 15 years old were al­ready sex­u­ally-ac­tive.

“From a moral­ity point of view, it is ab­so­lutely sad­den­ing that young ladies are sex­u­ally-ac­tive. How­ever, it is com­mend­able that they value their lives by us­ing con­doms as one of the many pre­ven­tion meth­ods,” Mr Makubakube said.

He said that women aged 15-24 years should value their vir­gin­ity in­stead of en­gag­ing in sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties.

“We com­mend the young ladies pro­tect­ing them­selves by us­ing con­doms, but as the church we strongly feel they should wait un­til they are mar­ried to start en­gag­ing in sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties. Girls aged be­tween 15 and 24 years should take pride in their chastity un­til they are mar­ried,” said Mr Makubakube.

unaids ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor michel sidibé.

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