LESOTHO: First health centre to distribute ART opened
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
MASERU, 10 May (PLUSNEWS) - Lesotho's first health centre to provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) was officially opened by Lesotho Prime Minister Dr Pakalitha Mosisili on Friday.
The Senkatana Centre is a pilot project in the planned national rollout of antiretroviral drugs and strengthening of the NGO sector to provide support. It is one of five community-based HIV/AIDS treatment support programmes in Southern Africa funded by drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb's US $100 million "Secure the Future" initiative to fight the pandemic in the world's hardest-hit region.
Since last year Lesotho has initiated four programmes in an effort to scale up its response to AIDS. These included prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, a series of workshops on transformational leadership, dissemination of a document on scaling up the national response and a campaign aimed at encouraging the Basotho people to be tested and receive counselling.
The Centre is a partnership of clinical services, private practitioners and non-governmental, community-based and faith-based organisations.
In the two days before the official opening of the clinic, 50 people had already come for consultations. According to Dr Pearl Ntsekhe, the director of Senkatana Clinic, about 98 percent requested an HIV test.
"It has been amazing to see their openness - there is a real sense of ownership," Flory Kolobe, head counselor at Tsepong Counseling Centre told PlusNews. A consortium of people living with HIV/AIDS, priests and counselors make up the Tsepong Counseling Centre, an NGO that forms an essential part of the clinic.
"Each group has a role to play, like the priests who plan to develop a programme to care for the carers," said Kolobe.
Senkatana began out of what was once Botsabelo Clinic, a clinic built specifically as an asylum for people with leprosy. Botsabelo, meaning "place of refuge", had fewer and fewer patients as the disease became less prevalent.
"We appealed to the minister of health to help us upgrade the dilapidated structure for an ART centre," said Ntsekhe.
The ministry obliged and soon the clinic needed a new name. A local legend tells the story of a fearless young boy named Senkatana who saved his village from the jaws of a monster.
"In our present situation, this monster is the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the Senkatana Centre becomes the saviour and salvation of Basotho from AIDS," said Mosisili.
Senkatana is supported by a three-year grant of US $4 million from Secure the Future, and is a partnership of the Lesotho Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Lesotho Medical Association, People Living Openly with HIV/AIDS, the Tsepong Counseling Centre and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL).
"Our aim is to demystify and destigmatise HIV and AIDS, so that communities can give support to their own families and people who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS without fear," Mosisili said at the opening of the centre.
"This is the only way to turn this crisis into an opportunity. It is a task that must be done, and can be done. This is one ball game in which we cannot afford any spectators - we must all be passionate, enthusiastic, committed players," he urged.
According to the Lesotho Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the HIV prevalence rate is 30 percent, and as high as 35 percent in the capital, Maseru.