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Lesotho launches groundbreaking HIV campaign on World AIDS Day

Health worker distributes condoms in Lesotho
WHO/Pierre Virot
Health worker distributes condoms in Lesotho

In an effort to dramatically increase access to HIV treatment and prevention, Lesotho will launch the world's first plan to have every person in the country know their HIV status. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with one in three adults HIV-positive. This is the first time a country will offer confidential and voluntary HIV testing and counselling door-to door with an aim to reach all households in Lesotho by the end of 2007.

Lesotho's campaign will use the same models employed by immunization programmes: extensive community mobilization and education followed by door-to-door visits. Communities will decide how and when their members will be offered HIV testing and counselling. Independent 'people's committees' will be established at the local, district and national levels. The committee members will be responsible for ensuring that testing is always voluntary, confidentiality is maintained and that post-test services, including treatment, are provided.

Praising Lesotho and other high-burden countries in Africa for finding ways to tackle the issue of HIV/AIDS head on, Dr Jim Yong Kim, Director of the HIV/AIDS Department of the World Health Organization (WHO), cites the growing availability of affordable AIDS treatment in developing countries in gradually transforming the fight against AIDS.

“Lesotho's initiative is an excellent example of this global trend towards expanding and integrating prevention and treatment efforts," said Dr Kim. "Affordable AIDS treatment in developing countries is gradually transforming the fight against AIDS. Many nations, like Lesotho, are now empowered to develop exciting, bold programmes that directly confront the epidemic. The impact on prevention will be tangible as more communities break the silence surrounding the disease and begin to speak openly about the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives."

Other high-burden countries in the region are also significantly scaling up HIV/AIDS services. In 2004, Botswana began offering HIV counselling and testing for all people entering health facilities, resulting in significant increases in the number of people aware of their HIV status and accessing other services. Neighbouring Swaziland, with the world’s highest HIV prevalence, now provides more than half of its citizens in need with antiretroviral treatment. In addition, Swaziland plans to provide an essential package of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services in 80% of all health facilities, including the primary health care level, nationwide by the end of 2007. Those who cannot access facilities will be provided with community-based services by the end of 2008.

In his remarks on the eve of World AIDS Day, Kim noted that moving towards universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care and rolling back the HIV/AIDS epidemic will require developing and implementing increasingly innovative approaches to fighting HIV/AIDS.

“Current prevention, treatment and care efforts are too episodic, ad hoc, and lack the intensity, pace and rhythm needed to make an impact,” said Kim. “But if we harness our efforts and employ innovative approaches as these nations are doing, there is no reason that we cannot turn back the tide of this epidemic.”

For more information contact:

Klomjit Chandrapanya
WHO Geneva
Maseru (30 November-1 December)
Mobile phone: +266 5886 2173

Tunga Namjilsuren
Telephone: +41 22 791 1073
Mobile phone: +41 76 494 3239