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‘Sex Workers increased HIV numbers during lockdown’

Mohloai Mpesi

Sex Workers are said to have contributed in a surge of HIV and AIDS with a prevalence of 71.9% during lockdown only.

This was revealed by the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on HIV and AIDS Chairperson ‘Mapulumo Hlao while tabling the National Aids Commission’s (NAC) report before Parliament this week.

The briefing of the committee by NAC was held on October 15, 2020.

Lesotho rests on the second spot on the list of countries hard-hit by the virus around the globe with a per capita prevalence of 23.6%, after Eswatini with a 27.3%.

“The prevalence is higher among female sex workers and among men who have sex with men; it is 71.9% and 32.9%, respectively,” she said.

“Among other people, the virus prevalence is mostly in people aged 15 to 49 years. It is estimated that there are 340 000 people living with HIV, of whom 61% (206, 000) are on treatment,” she explained.

According to Hlao’s report, the swelling of HIV and AIDS was imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown which disintegrated patients’ access to health centers.

‘The HIV and AIDS Committee was concerned that Covid-19 might have posed a significant threat for people living with HIV in the country; disrupting their access to health services in various ways.

“The committee therefore invited the NAC to brief it on how Covid-19 has impacted on the HIV treatment programs.

The report further stipulates that the, “New HIV infections declined by 35% from 2010 to 2018 and in 2018 there were 13 000 new HIV infections and 6 100 AIDS related deaths.

Mohale’sHoek is on the front on the list of the districts affected by HIV with 29.3% followed by Maseru with 27.8%, then Quthing 26.5%, Mafeteng 26.3%, Thaba-Tseka 26.2%, Mokhotlong 26.1%, Qacha’s Nek 25.9%, Leribe 23.75, Berea 23.0% and Butha-Buthe at 17.8%.

“The National AIDS Commission submitted that HIV testing had been continued at health facilities although it was compromised by the lockdown and the industrial action by the health workers,” she said.

“They stated that HIV testing through outreaches were also affected by Covid-19 induced lockdowns and eventually came to a halt; however, self-testing kits were distributed though the demand was higher.

“NAC indicated that HIV treatment was slightly affected as only 63 out of 326 health facilities were affected by the health workers industrial action.

“They stated that the launching of the multi-month dispensing strategy was of great benefit as under the programme, people living with HIV are given between three and six months’ supply of ARVs at one visit; thereby avoiding long queues which would compromise social distancing.

“They indicated that the only challenge faced was with people working in South Africa as there was a delay in information dissemination with regard to where they could get ARVs during Covid-19 lockdown,” she said.

“NAC further stated that Antenatal care was only affected in April during lockdown but picked up in May; the same trend was observed for pregnant women at Antenatal care units. They indicated that this report will enable them to make follow-ups on new HIV infections if there are any,” she explained.

“On the issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, NAC submitted that they are yet to compile a comprehensive statistical report from the Ministry of Police and Health in order to properly quantify the case.

“However, there was a notable increase of gender-based violence as well as sexual and child abuse cases during lockdown; adding that this report will enable them to make a follow-up on the new HIV infections,” she said.

“NAC also highlighted the point that they participated in various Covid-19 programs in order to capacitate its staff. The main challenge is resources, both financial and human. They explained that they are placed under the Prime Minister’s office but they do not get any allocations from the ministry; adding that they don’t get allocations from the Ministry of Health either yet working closely to pay for office space,” she said.

She noted that NAC bemoaned the lack of property and space which hinder their progress of work.

“They indicated that they also work with the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship especially at the district level but their offices are often taken over by the ministry, and as a result, they spend time fighting for office space instead of working. They further reported that due to budgetary constraints, paying rent is a challenge and at times they have to cut a certain percent or personal emoluments to pay for office space,” she said.

“The committee recommends that NAC’s grievances be urgently attended by relevant Portfolio Committee together with the Prime Minister, Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Health to bring about a permanent solution which will support its smooth operations,” she said.   

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