(HN, April 16, 2010) - Recently, HUM Adviser Dr. Judy Kuriansky travelled to Lesotho - where she returned to this week - to work with young girls aged 13-15 at a camp run by the First Lady of Lesotho, Mrs. Mathato Mosisilli. The camp, now in its third year is held with girls who were orphaned when parents died from the AIDS virus; and is designed to help them learn life skills such as nutrition, health and entrepreneurship; as well as their own HIV status.
Lesotho, known as the 'Kingdom in the Sky' is the southernmost landlocked country in the world, surrounded entirely by South Africa. Its capitol city is Maseru, and while the majority of the 1,800,000 people who live here - almost 60% - are between 15 and 64 years of age, Lesotho has a substantial youth population of around 35%. Roughly 40% of the population lives below the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day.
A tiny country, Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infections in the world at almost 25%. Lesotho’s first AIDS case was reported in 1986 and in cities, almost 50% of women under 40 are infected; and the general life expectancy for women now stands at 37; men at 41. An estimated 62 new HIV infections and 50 deaths due to AIDS occur each day in the country. Of those infected with HIV in Lesotho, almost 12,000 are children; an estimated 17% are aged 15-24; and 56% of the infected are women.
To deal with the devastating impact the AIDS epidemic has had on the country, the Lesotho government created a `Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS' in 1999 to address the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the population and has formed a new National AIDS Commission to coordinate nationwide anti-AIDS activities which also distributes antiretroviral drugs. Additionally, the government launched a proactive program in 2006 called "Know your status" to test everyone in the country who wants to be tested for HIV, funded by the Clinton Foundation.
In recent years Lesotho has focused its attention on decreasing the rate of 'Mother to child transmission'. In 2005 only 12% of pregnant HIV positive women were receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent infection transmission and by 2008 an estimated 57% of pregnant women were receiving the drugs. The percentage of women who agree to HIV testing during pregnancy has also increased and currently around 91% of pregnant women are tested.
However, even with prevention, testing and counseling the number of AIDS orphans in Lesotho is rapidly growing. Out of all countries with HIV prevalence greater than 1 percent, Lesotho has the largest percentage of children who have lost one or both parents and are themselves unclear about what their own infection status is. The amount of safe houses and orphanages that take care of orphans too young or unable to fend for themselves has grown tremendously and have tended to be unregulated.
This phenomenon can expose already vulnerable children to further trauma, abuse and neglect and serves to highlight why initiatives such as the First Lady’s `Help Lesotho’ leadership camps for girls are so important to the future of not just the children, but to the future of the country overall.
(Dr. Judy Kuriansky returns to Lesotho this week to conduct another edition of the `Help Lesotho’ girl’s camp in conjunction with the First Lady’s office. Her next report will feature the outcome of her work there.)
--- HUMNEWS, reporting by Joy DiBenedetto and Dr. Judy Kuriansky