By: Mpho Shelile 

World AIDS Day (WAD) is globally commemorated annually on 1 December to encourage the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

The National AIDS Commission (NAC) to celebrate this day has lined up a series of HIV/AIDS education and prevention activities ahead of the World AIDS Day commemorations on 1 December this year as part of efforts to eliminate the pandemic. This we got to learn at an event held in Maseru last week Wednesday the 22nd November, Manthabiseng Convention Center.

Mr. Lethola Mafisa from UNAIDS indicated that this year’s theme ‘Let the Communities Lead’, emphasizes the importance of community involvement, empowerment, and leadership in the efforts to address and combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “We are all about empowering communities to lead in the fight against HIV/AIDS involving various strategies, such as community-based education and awareness campaigns, promoting inclusivity and reducing stigma, lastly involving local leaders and organizations in decision-making processes. We also encourage fostering partnerships between communities and healthcare providers, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to create a comprehensive and collaborative approach to addressing the epidemic”, he said.  

Lesotho has made significant strides in responding to HIV and AIDS, and it is commendable, stressing that the multi-sectorial response is now more pivotal than it has ever been for Lesotho to maximize efficiencies, maintaining and sustaining the investments made, also accelerating all efforts to end inequalities, leaving no one behind and rally together with everyone towards an AIDS-free Lesotho, he highlighted. “We are proud to have reached the 90/90/90 goal but we need to be able to sustain it, and the only way to do so is by educating people about HIV/AIDS. More especially adolescence, there are more adolescence newly infected cases and this just goes to show that we have a huge problem because it shows lack of education. So this is where communities come in, if we have CSO’s lead and educate them enough to teach other community members about HIV/AIDS it would mean we have taken one major step in sustaining our goal.”

NAC has steered the ship to guide HIV prevention and community engagement strategically; strengthen coordination, governance, and accountability and kick start processes towards sustainability of the response. National AIDS Commission Embraces Community-Led Initiatives to Combat HIV.” They also plan on implementing a new task force which they will have about 9 members’ representatives from different CSO to make it easier for communities and the government to work hand in hand, and promote accountability.

It is also to bring attention to the need for healthcare that is devoid of discrimination and stigma, sensitizing communities on the importance of respecting human rights for all groups in society for the welfare of all. It’s important to note that the specific interpretation and activities associated with this theme may vary depending on the National AIDS Commission’s goals, the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the broader social and political context.

If you have specific details about the year in question, you might find more information on how this theme was implemented and what impact it had on community-led efforts in the context of HIV/AIDS.

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“The aim is to advocate at all levels for the right to health, leaving no one behind, and to let communities lead with their CSO’s. All these initiatives are held to raise awareness in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the country as far as HIV prevention and education is concerned”, he concluded.

On behalf of Matrix a CSO which focus more on LGBTQI community Thato Thinyane stressed that their organization was created to help end stigma and discrimination against homophobia and bridge the gap between HIV patients. “We also link communities to health facilities and end default since that alone is not only killing people but also spreading the infection especially among the youth. I am proud to say that we have managed bridge that gap and people view us differently now, we have created a more inclusive and diverse communities.”

From Her Voice CSO Ambassador, Miss. Nthabeleng Ntšekalle said that their main objective was to make sure patients keep their viral suppression, because there are churches and traditional doctors out there claiming that they can cure HIV/AIDS, “we advocate for young girls and the youth and also create a platform where they can part take in decision making about their futures, but most importantly we support all girls living with HIV.”

“For adolescent girls and young women in particular, communities could support comprehensive sexual health education, leading the way in respecting their rights to independently access sexual and reproductive health services. Communities can help target negative social and gender norms that increase the vulnerability of young women. Examples include ensuring young women who seek prevention or treatment aren’t stigmatized or discriminated against”, she stressed.

Adding that communities have long played a critical role in the fight against HIV. Their activism and advocacy have greatly influenced the response to HIV/AIDS over the past four decades. Like every sector involved in the response to the AIDS epidemic, the role of the community is evolving with developments in research, and with changing trends in funding and the social and political context. While the core functions of the community responses remain essential, community systems are being challenged to adapt to changing service models and demands from funders. Too many once-vibrant (CSOs) are now struggling with severe financial challenges, and many have already closed their doors yet many challenges remain.

While there have been significant successes over the years of action, epidemics are increasing in some countries and Lesotho is among those with the rise in infections among adolescents, and there are substantial disparities in prevalence, scale of national responses and access among different population groups. Furthermore, human rights violations and harmful gender norms continue to limit the effectiveness of responses to HIV.

UNAIDS promotes the development of informed, capable and coordinated communities and CSOs, groups and structures. In other words, it is the capacity building needed to ensure that “community responses” can be delivered through “community systems”. It should reach a broad range of community actors and enable them to contribute to the long-term sustainability of health and other interventions at the community level, including the creation of an enabling and responsive environment in which these contributions can be effective. “We also know the kind of power communities possess in playing a role of holding governments accountable, for ensuring that services are accessible to all those who need them. All this can be done through forming a task force and implementing it” While UNICEF commits to helping in coordinating the structure in which the government and CSO leaders will account to, and educate Basotho about HIV/AIDS.