Impact and Prevalence of HIV in Lesotho

Everyone in Lesotho is either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

The AIDS epidemic in Lesotho has had a devastating impact on the country, its economy, social structure and capacity of families to care for themselves.

  • Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world – more than 23 % of people, or just under one in four people in the country are living with HIV.
  • Over half of the 260,000 adults living with HIV in Lesotho are women.
  • There are currently more than 200,000 orphans in Lesotho, most of whom are AIDS orphans.

What is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function. Infection with the virus results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to ‘immune deficiency.’ The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fulfil its role of fighting infection and disease. Infections associated with severe immunodeficiency are known as ‘opportunistic infections,’ because they take advantage of a weakened immune system.

HIV graphics

Preventing HIV

It is individuals’ behaviour, not their job, relationships, or personality, that puts them at risk of getting HIV. Everyone can take steps to help stop the spread of HIV in Lesotho.

Where to Get Tested for HIV in Lesotho

Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) is an important tool for preventing the spread of HIV. It allows people to know their own status and to evaluate their behavior and its consequences.

A negative test result offers a key opportunity to reinforce the importance of safe and risk-reducing behaviors.

A positive test result should allow a person to receive referrals for counselling, care and support, including opportunities to talk to knowledgeable people who can help them understand what their HIV status means and what responsibilities they have to themselves and others as a result.

Use the table below to find a free place to be tested – getting tested is not painful, and you will know the results within twenty minutes.

Institute
Area Served
PSI
Maseru, Mafeteng, mobile clinics around the country
Baylor
Maseru, Leribe, Butha- Buthe, Mokhotlong, Mohale’ hoek, Qacha’sneck
LPPA
Butha-Buthe, Maseru, Mafeteng, Berea, Mohales hoek
Clinics and hospitals
All districts
Kick4Life
All districts

FAQ About HIV/AIDS

How is HIV spread?

  • From mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast milk;
  • During unprotected sexual intercourse (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an infected person;
  • Through exposure to HIV-infected blood or bodily fluids; and
  • Injecting drugs or sharing injecting equipment with a person who has HIV.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term which applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. It is defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.
Condom Use:

  • When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV;
  • There is still a chance of getting or transmitting HIV even with consistent and correct condom use, and therefore it is recommended that additional prevention measures be used as well;
  • Male and female condoms are effective in preventing HIV, however they should never be used at the same time; and
  • Condoms should never be reused.

Avoid risky behaviour (includes exposure to HIV-infected blood or bodily fluids):

  • The only 100% way to prevent sexual HIV transmission is abstinence;
  • Risky sexual behaviours for HIV transmission include:
    • Not using condoms;
    • Multiple concurrent partners;
    • Transactional sex;
    • Men who have sex with men;
    • Intergenerational sex; and
    • Violence against women.
  • Risky non-sexual behaviours for HIV transmission include;
    • Sharing needles for drug use (recreational or medical);
    • Sharing toothbrushes;
    • Sharing razor blades; and
    • Unsafe handling of HIV-positive blood or bodily fluids.

Take Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP)

  • PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take an oral pill once a day before coming into contact with HIV. PrEP is made of two HIV medications that can prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV;
  • PrEP must be taken for at least seven days to reach optimal levels of protection against HIV;
  • When taken correctly, PrEP can lower the risk of getting HIV through sex by more than 90%.
  • Only people who are HIV-negative should use PrEP. PrEP is NOT a cure for HIV;
  • PrEP is intended for people who are at very high risk of contracting HIV, including:
    • HIV-negative people who are in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner;
    • HIV-negative people who engage in transactional sex (prostitution); and
    • HIV-negative people who do not use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status.

 

PMTCT (Pregnant women taking steps to prevent transmission to their babies)

  • Pregnant women must know their HIV status if they want to prevent transmitting HIV to their infants;
  • HIV-positive women can give birth to HIV-negative children if the proper steps are taken throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding;
  • HIV-positive women should always deliver their babies in a hospital; and
  • HIV-positive women need to take antiretroviral treatment (ART) faithfully throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding, while infants born to HIV-positive women must receive medication for 4-6 weeks after birth and be tested for HIV.

If you’ve been exposed, take Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

  • PEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take anti-HIV medications after coming into contact with HIV. PEP usually involves taking a combination of three drugs over a four week period (28 days).
  • PEP must be started as soon as possible after exposure (or risk of exposure) to HIV. The cut-off time to start PEP is 48-72 hours after HIV exposure;
  • Only people who are HIV-negative should use PEP. PEP is NOT a cure for HIV; and
  • PEP should only be used in emergency situations. It is not an ongoing prevention strategy.

Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC):

  • Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) reduces men’s risk of HIV infection during vaginal sex (female-to-male transmission) significantly;
  • VMMC does not prevent HIV transmission from an HIV-positive man to an HIV-negative woman;
  • VMMC does not give any protection against pregnancy; and
  • The term ‘voluntary medical male circumcision’ differentiates circumcision that is performed by a trained health professional from traditional circumcision, which is performed as part of a religious ritual or cultural rite of passage. Deciding to have a non-medical circumcision is a high risk decision which can itself end in transmission or other complications.
VCT is an opportunity for people to know their HIV status with quality counselling support to help them cope with a positive or negative test result.
  • The process is confidential – only the counsellor and the person being tested know the results;
  • They receive a small pin prick on their finger – there is little or no pain;
  • It is very safe – counsellors use gloves and clean needles; and
  • The results are provided immediately.
ARVs are antiretroviral drugs, which keep the levels of HIV in the body at a low level so that the immune system can recover and work effectively. ARV drugs enable many people who are HIV positive to live long and healthy lives. A person should begin taking ARVs as soon as they test positive for HIV.
When ARVs are taken exactly as prescribed:

  • The HIV virus cannot easily multiply itself;
  • The patient stays healthy;
  • The patient is at a low risk of opportunistic infections;
  • The progress of the disease is lowered; and
  • The patient will not be resistant to drugs.
  • Wear plastic gloves when touching bodily fluids or anything that has come in contact with bodily fluids. This includes washing their clothes, changing soiled bed linens, or cleaning vomit or blood.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean water, even if you wore gloves.
  • Remember that HIV cannot be transmitted through normal contact with air, food, water, animals, dishes, or toilet seats.
  • Be cautious of other diseases that someone living with HIV or AIDS may have. Wash your hands frequently and seek medical attention if you develop any symptoms.

Living Positively with HIV

If you are HIV positive, the number one thing you can do to live positively is to take antiretroviral treatment as prescribed by a doctor. Adherence to your medication (meaning that you take the proper amount at the proper time without EVER skipping) will allow you to prevent HIV symptoms from affecting most aspects of your life.

You can minimize the chance of your HIV infection becoming AIDS, and you can minimize the risk of transmitting your HIV infection to others by adhering to your medication.

Wellness Advice

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Consider taking nutritional supplements, such as vitamin A and selenium, to help reduce the disease progression;
  • Avoid smoking, as it weakens the immune system;
  • Avoid alcohol intoxication and drug use;
  • Exercise and stay fit so your body is strong;
  • Get lots of rest and sleep and avoid too much stress when possible;
  • Have a positive attitude and believe that you can control your health;
  • Consider taking alternative therapies, such as psychological therapy; and
  • Seek treatment early for medical problems.

PH - AIDS signs - Feb 2013 (13)

Help Lesotho’s Approach

There is an inseparable link between the transmission and prevention of HIV and gender inequity. Gender equity and HIV/AIDS education and testing are key foci embedded in all Help Lesotho programming. Issues of early marriage, power inequity, sexual violence, safe sex, and communication are dealt with squarely in all programs for all ages.

  • Health Education

Education is the key to prevention for those who are HIV negative and health for those who are HIV positive. Knowing your status is the first step. Help Lesotho provides health education to various populations on an on-going basis covering basic HIV/AIDS, sanitation, transmission issues surrounding caring for HIV infected individuals, local resources, nutrition and its effect on health, testing and treatment issues, mother-to-child transmission, the impact of nutrition on absorption of anti-retroviral drugs and local resources.

  • Youth Empowerment in Schools (YES) Clubs

YES Clubs are an important component of Help Lesotho’s school-based outreach. The clubs are open to all students in the schools and function in the same manner as other clubs to avoid stigmatization. They discuss issues openly and thoughtfully. Understanding about HIV is about equipping youth with the tools to assess their own personal risk factors and speak out about emotional impact. The Anti-AIDS Clubs provide such a forum.

Although challenging, Help Lesotho endeavours to provide listening, caring and psychosocial support to all its populations to deal with grief and loss, fear and stigmatization around HIV/AIDS, poverty-related issues, sexual violence and isolation.