When ‘culture’ impedes HIV fight

When ‘culture’ impedes HIV fight

MASERU – Changing some of the cultural practices associated with initiation is almost impossible for the National Initiation Schools Committee (NISC), making the fight against HIV/AIDS difficult, Parliament has heard. The practices referred to were not discussed or mentioned in a report tabled in parliament last week because they are part of the sacred secrets of initiation schools.
Parliament’s cluster overseeing HIV/AIDS affairs tabled its report after meeting with NISC, the Principal Chiefs Committee (PCC) and the Ministry of Health earlier this year.
NISC is a national committee overseeing the affairs of initiation schools to ensure the safety of the initiates and also to ascertain that culture is followed correctly.
In its report, the cluster said it was barred from accessing initiation schools, making it difficult for members to assist in discussions on how best such schools can contribute to the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

According to Basotho culture, uninitiated people cannot be privy to happenings at initiation schools, while those who undergo the initiation process cannot share the secrets with outsiders.
Since time immemorial, many Basotho, especially those in rural areas have been proud of sending their sons and daughters to initiation schools as a sign of passage into adulthood.
Tabling the report in parliament last week, Parliament’s HIV/AIDS committee chairperson ’Mapulumo Hlao said rising numbers of HIV/AIDS cases in the country are a major concern to her committee.

She said there is an urgent need to change behavioral patterns as well as cultural practices that expose people to HIV/AIDS.
In this regard, the parliamentary committee undertook to establish whether any HIV/AIDS prevention measures have been put in place in initiation schools.
“It is on this basis that the committee invited the National Initiation Schools Committee, the Ministry of Health and Principal Chiefs Committee to the joint meeting,” Hlao said.
The report shows that the NISC was aware of how the challenge of HIV/AIDS intersects with cultural practices at initiation schools.
However, the NISC pointed out that “it is quite difficult to change some cultural practices”.

The NISC reportedly said it would welcome assistance from the Ministry of Health in order to respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS.
However, the NISC said some initiation practices such as mock fighting using sticks (melamu) cannot be stopped despite the fact that in most cases, participants end up sustaining open wounds that need to be dressed.

The NISC added that this cultural practice cannot be avoided but “initiates should obtain protection from traditional healers to avoid being injured”.
“They also submitted that they have realised that the use of one razor (blade) on more than one person is a health hazard. They stated that although they can afford to buy razors, the ministry should assist them with latex gloves and medication,” Hlao said in her report.

The NISC also told Hlao’s committee that another challenge is posed by grown up initiates who do not either disclose their HIV/AIDS status nor provide medical reports.
However, Hlao’s committee has learned that the HIV/AIDS preventive measures are adhered to in some areas.
The initiation committee also complained that unfair practices in the issuance of licences by the Ministry of Health to traditional healers resulted in challenges at initiation schools as unqualified traditional healers often harm the initiates.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Health submitted that cultural practices at the initiation schools make it difficult to reach them for assistance because many health professionals are uninitiated.
The ministry said the administrators of the initiation schools often reject their assistance, although initiates can get assistance at any health facility countrywide.
The ministry stated that it had previously arranged training sessions for the NISC “but the latter was not cooperative”.

“The ministry highlighted that they made several efforts such as engaging principal chiefs’ committee but to no avail,” Hlao told parliament.
The ministry said it had unsuccessfully tried to educate traditional healers on the appropriate use of herbs.

The ministry said traditional healers complicated matters by encouraging people living with HIV not to take life-prolonging Anti-Retroviral drugs but to use herbs.
Dosages are often not properly measured in such cases while the herbs are also exposed to hazardous weather conditions that eventually cause adverse side-effects on people living with HIV.
The ministry pleaded with Parliament to come up with laws regulating the use of herbs.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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