Big cause for joy

Big cause for joy

MASERU-DESPITE the global crisis induced by the outbreak of Covid-19, this year’s World Aids Day commemoration took a joyous turn at the Royal Palace as the country celebrated reaching the 90-90-90 UNAIDS target.
The 90-90-90 is a concept introduced by the United Nation’s programme on HIV/AIDS in 2013.

The concept says by 2020, 90 percent of people who are HIV infected will be diagnosed, 90 percent of people who are diagnosed will be on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of those who receive antiretrovirals will be virally suppressed.

According to National AIDS Commission (NAC) Chairperson, Reverend Ntokwenzani Xana, the country’s statistics stands at 90 percent of people have been diagnosed, 97 percent of those are on antiretroviral treatment and 92 percent of those have their viral load suppressed.

“This is a great achievement and it is progress worth celebrating. If we get this right, we will eventually get to end AIDS by 2030,” he said.
He said this year’s commemorations were held under the theme: Global Solidarity; Shared Responsibility.
“This theme resonates with what the world has been trying to achieve from the onset; unity and shared responsibility in ending AIDS by 2030,” said Xana.

He said every Mosotho should play a role in ensuring that the country reaches its targeted goal of having 95 percent of HIV positive people knowing their status and to be on treatment.
“95 percent of those on treatment should be viably suppressed by 2023,” he said.

He said the NAC had embarked on resuscitation of district AIDS commissions mandated with overseeing and coordinating the HIV response at district level.
“Their first task is to develop HIV/AIDS district fast-track plans tailor-made to address district-related challenges,” he said.

He said the country submitted a successful M2 billion Global Fund proposal to combat HIV/AIDS and M15 million to respond to the Covid-19 patients.
“These resources will be used in the utmost transparency to ensure that 95-95-95 targets by 2023 (are achieved),” he said.
He said the country also started a “month to month” drug dispensation programme which turned out to be helpful in ensuring that people on ARVs accessed treatment during the lockdown. There are no queues at the facilities, where social distancing is observed.

Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (LENEPHWA) chairperson, ’Mamichael Mapesela, said although her organisation is “happy” that Lesotho has achieved the 90-90-90 target, discrimination and stigma surrounding people living with HIV still exists.

She called on the government to establish a fund that would fill the funding gap should donors pull out or reduce their support. Donors fund much of the country’s HIV response programmes.
“This will help us not lose our successes,” she said, adding that Covid-19 had exposed the health ministry’s lack of resources, hence the call for at least 15 percent of the national budget to be committed to the health sector.

US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, described this year’s commemorations as momentous in light of Lesotho’s achievements, even though challenges remain.
“It is an outstanding achievement considering that the country achieved it in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis and remains laser focused despite having the second ranking worldwide,” she said.

“We remain steadfast to our partnership and commitment to fight HIV/AIDS for everyone,” she said, highlighting her country’s desire to continue helping Lesotho fight HIV as well as tackle other public health challenges.
Gonzales said HIV prevention and treatment services must be owned and operated by Basotho to sustain the positive trend.

“Local institutions, government and communities must be empowered to keep Lesotho on the road to being an AIDS free country,” she said.
UN Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima said the UN joins Basotho in celebrating the gains, but warned against complacency and ignoring the “unfinished business”.

“At the same time, when we look forward, we all know that the fight is far from being over. The unfinished business includes protecting and sustaining our gains and conquering new territories in terms of preventing new infections,” said Niyonzima.

“We must address the remaining gaps. The persistent high vulnerability of young girls and women aged 15-24 HIV is not acceptable,” he said, also highlighting the need to fight transmission from mothers to newborn babies.
The Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro said the journey ahead is still a difficult one.
“But we must stand proudly because the signals of attaining epidemic control point to the efforts many of us have invested in this fight,” he said, noting that as “we celebrate, we must also be encouraged that HIV/AIDS must come under control and disappear.”

His Majesty King Letsie III said although the spotlight is currently on combating Covid-19, Basotho should not forget that HIV/AIDS still exists.
“We have to always remember that our fight against HIV continues. We all have to take responsibility and hold hands to end it (Covid-19), not forgetting our commitment of ending new infections and HIV related deaths before 2030,” he said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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