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New dangers to HIV fight



MAFETENG – Mafeteng, which is the district with the highest HIV prevalence rate at 24 percent, is grappling with challenges that are threatening to roll back achievements that have been scored in recent years.

The challenges include a low uptake in Pre-exposure Prophylaxis with others defaulting on their Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) as well as poor partner notification.

The district is also grappling with a lack of enough professional counsellors in most of its health care facilities. HIV testing service kits and condoms sometimes run out.

Nthatisi Molefi, the District Health Management Team (DHMT) HIV Clinical Mentor, revealed these challenges at a two-day gatekeepers meeting held by the National AIDS Commission (NAC) last week.

The gatekeepers who attended the meeting were chiefs, traditional doctors, community councillors, clergy and representatives of government ministries.

Molefi said although they have several HIV prevention strategies, Mafeteng is at risk with HIV infections.

“We have to find ways around our collaboration to prevent new infections,” she said.

In a bid to prevent new HIV infections, the community gatekeepers were capacitated on the five HIV prevention pillars such as combination prevention for adolescent girls, young women and their male partners.

They were also capacitated on combination prevention for key populations, comprehensive condom programming, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services for men and boys and initiation to Pre-exposure Prophylaxis.

They were also familiarised with the gateway approach which places the local authorities on the forefront of the fight and prevention of HIV/AIDS, while also linking it with community services.

The aim was to put services at the centre of the response and also aligning with the National Strategic Plan to ensure that 40 percent of the HIV response is community-led.

After the training, they are expected to prioritise plans on the impacts and needs of the communities following services brought by different service providers available in the districts.

The Ministry of Local Government HIV & AIDS Coordinator, Malefetsane Nkhabu, said the aim is for the districts to effectively perform duties mandated to them.

The mandate is to decentralise response coordination on HIV & AIDS in local government structures.

“We want to lobby the community gatekeepers to become champions of HIV prevention interventions because they are key in reaching out to communities with HIV services,” Nkhabu said.

“We want them to understand the situation around them,” he said.

He said they expect them to liaise between villagers and HIV prevention service providers after the meeting.

“Advocate for community demand creation of HIV & AIDS services and address issues that perpetuate gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination from the grassroots,” he told them.

Tankiso Mokhohlane, the NAC Coordinator, said the NAC is mandated to provide strategic leadership and governance, efficient and effective coordination and management of the national multi-sectoral and decentralised HIV and AIDS response towards ending AIDS in 2030.

He said despite Lesotho’s achievement towards the 90-90-90 in HIV response, she still has some challenges amongst children and adolescents.

What are the 90-90-90 goals?

The UNAIDS “90-90-90” strategy was a call to have 90 percent of all HIV-infected individuals diagnosed by 2020, 90 percent of whom would be on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and 90 percent of whom would achieve sustained virologic suppression.

Reaching these targets by 2020 would reduce the HIV epidemic to a low-level endemic disease by 2030

“Numbers have declined but there are still new infections amongst adolescents. We are concerned because of the high prevalence,” he said.

Mokhohlane added that “HIV isn’t the Ministry of Health’s responsibility alone… all stakeholders have to join hands to prevent new infections”.

“We want to establish where we went wrong and how to collaborate as a way forward for each person to play their role for the protection of Basotho,” he said.

He said amongst adolescents and youths, there are more females infected than males.

Adolescents are children between the ages of ten and 19-years.

“We need to protect our youngsters.”

Lephia 2020 report shows that early sex debut, inter-generational relationships, sex work and sex exploitation, inadequate condom use and concurrent sexual partners are the main causes of new infections.

It further revealed that gender inequality, harmful cultural norms and practices, worsening poverty and unemployment are amongst the causes of new infections.

Mokhohlane noted that there is a high prevalence among women aged 15 to 44 at 29.4 percent, 71.9 percent among female sex workers and 32.9 percent among male sex workers.

He said according to statistics, 80 percent of new infections are recorded among young women aged 15 to 34 and the largest number of new infections, 29 percent, occur among women who had never married.

Uncircumcised men who never married contributed 26 percent of new infections, while 13.5 percent of new infections occurred among couples with a male partner of positive status.

Mokhohlane said new infections put the country at risk.

“We have to take responsibility and make it everyone’s business to prevent new infections.”

The NAC, through the support of the United Nations Agencies (UNFPA, UNAIDS and UNDP), has made noticeable progress towards fast-tracking implementation of the National HIV & AIDS Strategic Plan (NHASP) 2018-2023.

The NHASP suggests the development of the District Fast Track Plans that are responsive to the Lesotho National Decentralisation Policy of 2014.

As the first step of working on decentralisation of HIV services, District AIDS Committees (DACs) were resuscitated and provided with both financial and technical support to develop their respective District Fast Track Plans (DFTPs).

As Pre-exposure Prophylaxis roll out implementation of these DFTPs, three District AIDS Committees (Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing & Mokhotlong) were provided with capacity building and further implementation followed suit.

Additionally, three more districts were chosen according to challenges they are faced with.

Butha-Buthe, which has a development site with the Ha-Belo factory site will see an influx of people when they operationalise those factories and possibly affect its status as a district with the lowest HIV prevalence in the country.

Thaba-Tseka has been experiencing a worrisome rise in child marriages and lastly Mafeteng, which LePHIA 2020 report revealed that has the highest prevalence in the country.

DACs in the above mentioned districts were capacitated and now NAC is providing more support to these committees to implement their District Fast Track Plans focusing on HIV prevention interventions.

UNFPA HIV Programme Analyst, Thabo Lebaka, said the UNFPA’s approach to HIV is based around two strategies – prevention roadmap on how best they can ensure that HIV prevention still stays at the top of the agenda of the government.

They also have to ensure that policies relevant to HIV prevention, especially for young people, are made and executed.

He said the UNFPA also supports a comprehensive HIV prevention project called “Along the borders,” which focuses on preventing HIV transmission and improved access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights information and services along Lesotho’s three porous borders of Maseru, Maputsoe and Mafeteng.

“These are the busiest borders which are deemed highly porous and catalytic to the transmission of new HIV infections, thus the project is targeting migrants, long distance truck drivers, youths and key populations along these borders,” Lebaka said.

He said they also support the NAC to create advocacy about HIV prevention around gatekeepers to reduce new infections.

The Mafeteng’s Ha-Makopela Chief, Ntsane Makopela, said the drivers of new infections are behavioural and socio-cultural as they still have a challenge with men reluctant to partake in voluntary male circumcision.

“Some only agree to do it if they get sick and are hospitalised,” Chief Makopela said.

He also said Basotho are not interested in HIV capacity building public gatherings if hosted by chiefs or village health workers.

“We do social messaging at every chance but they prefer new faces,” the chief said.

“With this collaboration, apart from being empowered, we will also know who to involve for a successful engagement with our communities,” he said.

Lihlong Tjokosela, the Ministry of Education’s Special Needs Unit director, said students in rural areas are left behind in information accessibility about HIV.

“It’s even worse for those living with disability as communication on its own is a barrier and they fail to access health services because there are no specialists in health facilities,” Tjokosela said.

“Their fundamental human rights are violated and it seems they live in their own world,” she said.

She said all key stakeholders in HIV should also offer services to hard-to-reach areas and not only focus on urban areas.

“People should be given information for them to make informed decisions,” she said.

Tjokosela said the education ministry has introduced life-skills based sexuality education subject in schools for children to know who they are.

“But it’s not compulsory in all grades and doesn’t have its own teachers,” she said.

“Some teachers even hate it because they aren’t well trained in it as it only offers it’s only short courses.”

She said the subject should be introduced from pre-school to Grade 12.

She said parents should also be capacitated because “some insult us when we encourage their children to use family planning, saying we teach them prostitution”.

“They are already sexually active,” Tjokosela said.

“Yearly after June, we have so many pregnant children and we need everyone on board to end this.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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