March 8, 2004

Government moves to tackle Aids pandemic

Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has become one of the first heads of state to publicly test for the HIV virus as he kicked off a free national HIV testing programme. Mosisili, joined by other members of his cabinet, said that with his test he hoped to stem the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. The high-profile response to the pandemic followed the launch of an HIV/AIDS crisis management manual - the first by any country - called "Turning Crisis into an Opportunity: Strategies for Scaling up the National Response to HIV/AIDS".

In Lesotho, estimated three out of every 10 people are infected with the virus, including 60 percent of the country's workforce. In the last six years, the average life expectancy has plunged from 60 years to 39 years. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said according to government estimates, in another 10 years half the teaching corps was expected to succumb to AIDS. At the current rate of infection, by 2010 Lesotho would record a negative population growth rate.

The voluntary testing programme is said to cost US $10.1 million. An amount of $12.5 million was granted to Lesotho by the Geneva-based Global Fund for HIV/AIDS and TB programmes, but most of the money will be used to tackle AIDS. Other donors include the Irish government, the UK Department for International development and the United States. Counselling and support services, and the provision of antiretroviral therapy to prolong lives, will accompany the national testing programme, the Prime Minister said. The government's new manual on managing the crisis was developed jointly by the Lesotho government and international partners, including UN agencies. Besides the annual budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Health, the government has begun putting away two percent of the annual recurrent budget of each ministry to finance HIV/AIDS programmes. (IRIN)

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