LESOTHO: HIV/AIDS testing facilities still to be set up
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Minister of Health and Social Welfare Motloheloa Phooko.
JOHANNESBURG, 9 March (PLUSNEWS) - Lesotho launched universal HIV/AIDS testing for its citizens at the weekend, but the first of three centres providing free testing will only be operational by the end of April.
Motloheloa Phooko, the minister of health and social welfare, told PlusNews that in the meantime eight Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) clinics were being used to provide free testing services. The PMTCT centres are located in four of the country's 10 districts.
The Lesotho government also aims to draw up a cost-effective plan by June to provide cheaper antiretrovirals (ARVs) to its population, a senior government official said.
About 300,000 Basotho are infected with HIV, of which an estimated 28,000 have CD4 counts (which measure the strength of the body's immune system) under 200, qualifying them for treatment, Phooko said. The government hopes to be able to provide them with ARVs by 2005.
The tiny mountain kingdom has a population of 2.2 million.
Providing free ARVs would cost the government US $14 million annually. "And that is just the cost of the ARVs - we will also have to consider the cost of providing CD4 counts, which is mandatory for monitoring the effect of the ARVs on the patients, counseling etc," Phooko pointed out.
"By June, we will have an idea of what the situation is on the ground. We would have spoken to all the pharmaceutical companies and other role-players," he said.
Qacha's Nek in southeastern Lesotho, where the universal testing programme was launched, does not have free testing facilities. "Judging by the response we received - about 200 people had lined up to be tested by the end of Saturday - we will have to set up a centre there as soon as possible," Phooka noted.
The government's goal is to have testing facilities available at all the 18 hospital in the country.
The voluntary testing programme will cost an estimated US $10.1 million, calculated on the basis of testing one million people at US $10 per person by the end of 2004. Much of that amount will be covered by a $12.5 million grant from the Geneva-based Global Fund for Fighting HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.
Dr Miguel Kiasekoka, the World Health Organisation's (WHO)representative in Lesotho, said the country had only two laboratory units that could perform the CD4 count and viral load tests.
Kiasekoka, who chairs the Lesotho-UN theme group on HIV/AIDS, said WHO was assisting the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to acquire and position another four laboratory units at various health facilities.
"Despite the reduced cost of ARVs, this medication is still going to be expensive in the Lesotho context of food insecurity and poverty," Dr Kiasekoka said.