Connect with us

Local News

Why the condom is losing its lure



MASERU – Listening to public health officer Makhotso Tšotetsi lamenting how an attempt to boost Lesotho’s fight against HIV and AIDS could be backfiring with potentially terrible consequences, one is quickly reminded of the law of unintended consequences.
Long known to social scientists well before it was popularised in the 20th Century by late American sociologist Robert K Merton, it is the concept that one’s actions produce not only the intended results but could also yield other outcomes that one never thought about, anticipated or wanted – the unintended consequences.

Sometimes unintended consequences can be so negative as to make a problem or situation far worse than it was before the intervention.
Well, not quite where the Ministry of Health is with its bid to use voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC) and the free access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to strengthen its campaign against HIV and AIDS.
But still an unwelcome drawback, with some people, according to Tšotetsi, now thinking that with the introduction of VMMC and the ready availability of prophylaxis medication they could as well ditch condoms altogether – a worrying trend that if unchecked could undo decades of effort against the scourge.

Tšotetsi said with VMMC touted as having the potential to reduce the chances of infection by 60 percent some people now think being circumcised is a passport to having unprotected sex.
“Then there is PrEP that allows anyone to collect the pill at any clinic and this is definitely going to reduce the number of people relying on condoms to protect themselves,” added Tšotetsi, who was speaking at an event jointly hosted last week by the ministry and the United Nations

Population Fund (UNFP) to review the government’s National Condom Strategy.
She did not give figures to illustrate how much the ministry thinks the use of condoms may have dropped owing to people preferring circumcision as their only method of protection against the virus.

But she said while the campaign to raise public awareness about the huge advantages of male circumcision coupled with the use of prophylaxis medication – which are drugs taken by people at risk of infection to prevent getting infected – had been effective, it appeared some men may have misinterpreted or misunderstood the message.
Instead of using VMMC and PrEP as additional tools to protect themselves some apparently believe that the two could replace use of condoms, a very dangerous development given that, apart from abstinence and sticking to one partner, the rubber sheath remains the most effective way to avoid infection.

One only needs to take a quick review of the progress Lesotho has achieved against HIV and AIDS over the years on the back of a campaign that relied on condoms and antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs.
From the early 90s the country has promoted the use of condoms and ARVs as the primary weapons against the pandemic that at one time was responsible for sending whole families to an early grave because of the low rate of condom use among people with multiple sex partners, while ARVs were inaccessible to many.

But a concerted effort to raise public awareness of the importance of condom use would soon bear fruit with, for example, the country’s National AIDS Commission (NAC) in 2015 distributing 31 condoms per adult man, above the UNFP’s regional benchmark of 30.50, according to the Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS.

The study also found that condom use among adults in Lesotho aged 15-49 who had more than one sexual partner in 2016 was at 76 percent.
It also said there had been an increase in condom use among men who pay for sex, with 90 percent reporting using the sheath with a sex worker in 2014, compared to 64 percent in 2009.
It looked like the country was on course to winning the war against the pandemic, with the same study saying by 2017, 80 percent of people living with HIV in Lesotho were aware of their status, with 74 percent of all those living with the virus on treatment.

The percentage of people on treatment who are virally suppressed in 2017 was 68 percent, the study revealed.
But this progress could be undercut if the misguided belief that circumcision and PrEP medication alone can prevent infection were to gain traction and more people stopped using condoms.
But how did we arrive here?
Was it simply a case of an initiative with noble intentions unfortunately yielding an unwanted and ruinous consequence?

Zambian expert Holo Machonda, who is a consultant on the national condom strategy, puts the problem down to a lack of effective coordination among anti-HIV and AIDS campaigners.
He said the promotion of circumcision and prophylaxis medication needed to have been done in a well-coordinated manner that would also simultaneously highlight the importance of condoms and ARVs.

Machonda also appeared to suggest that the early enthusiasm about the condom might have been lost, with the sheath now being gradually relegated to a mere birth control tool instead of the vital weapon against a deadly virus that it is.
“Currently, the condom is a reproductive health commodity. (This) is not enough because it means condoms are treated the same as family planning pills,” Machonda said.
He suggested that condom advertising in the media was not as high as it should be in a country that has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.

Machonda bemoaned lack of accurate data on condom usage in Lesotho and called for the establishment of a special condom unit to promote the use of the protective sheath and to gather information on usage to guide future HIV prevention policies and programmes.
“This way the government will be able to see why there is an understocking and overstocking in other regions. Records and data are important,” he said.

Machonda does seem to have a point if one considers that the latest record on condom distribution dates back to two years ago, when the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said in 2016 that Lesotho topped the SADC region in the use of condoms among women aged 15 to 24 years.

The report revealed that 80 percent of women interviewed said they used condoms when they had sex with their non-regular sex partners.
But the report did not say how many condoms were distributed countrywide. Also, it was not clear whether the interviewed women represented the majority of sexually active women in the same age group.

However, the fact that the rate of new infections as well as pregnancy among teenagers were on the rise seems to suggest that condom use might not be as wide as would be desirable, said Tšotetsi.
But Lesotho’s Public Health Director, Dr Thabelo Ramatlapeng, believes the country was not about to throw away the fruits of all the hard work against HIV and AIDS over the last few decades.
She says the new condom strategy will enable the country to build on the success of the past by increasing use of the sheath among vulnerable groups and the population at large.

“Our efforts will contribute to the global goal of reducing mortality due to HIV/AIDS and STI’s, reducing unwanted pregnancies and reducing maternal deaths that occur among adolescents who did not plan their pregnancies,” she said.
The strategy will ensure distribution of condoms is done in a more coordinated manner, while the rate of usage will be tracked, and the information used to guide planners on how best to structure future intervention initiatives, Ramatlapeng said.

“All stakeholders must … effectively promote, procure, distribute, dispense and monitor the use of condoms among those that need them” she added.
And for the sake of all of us one hopes things work out as Ramatlapeng envisions.

Rose Moremoholo

Continue Reading

Local News

Lesotho’s own brandy



ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.

Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.

Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.

The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.

His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.

As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.

“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.

“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.

Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!

One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!

“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?

He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.

He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.

Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.

He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.

He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.

But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.

However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.

“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.

Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.

“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

Continue Reading

Local News

Ready-to-cook vegetables



ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

Continue Reading

Local News

A new, co-operative chain store



ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

Continue Reading