Lesotho To Announce $12M Program That Will Offer HIV Tests to All Residents
Lesotho officials this week are expected to announce a $12 million program that will offer HIV tests to all of the country's 1.9 million residents, including King Letsie III, who would become the first king to be tested publicly, London's Times reports (Lister, Times, 11/29). World Health Organization HIV/AIDS Programme Director Jim Yong Kim in September during a three-day visit to Lesotho persuaded Health Minister Motloheloa Phooko to push for universal testing, and Phooko has said he will announce a detailed testing plan on Thursday -- World AIDS Day -- that will "make history." Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and Catholic Archbishop Bernard Mohalisi in March 2004 both underwent public HIV tests, and Mosisili urged other officials to get tested to break down the stigma associated with the disease. However, only 21,000 people -- about 1% of the country's population -- have been tested for HIV during the past year (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/25). Kim said the program will be a "major step forward," adding, "If we have 80[%] or 90% uptake of testing, which we believe we can, it will be a hugely effective way of reducing the rise in HIV infection." Under international human rights law, testing cannot be mandatory; however, officials hope that under the program, which is a joint effort between WHO and the Ministry of Health, every resident over the age of 12 will have taken an HIV test by the end of 2007 (Times, 11/29). In order to expand access to testing, the program will involve health care workers going door to door to offer HIV tests to residents, BBC News reports. Lesotho plans to hire an additional 7,500 workers to conduct the testing (Morris, BBC News, 11/29). According to UNAIDS statistics, HIV prevalence in Lesotho is 27%, the third-highest rate in the world. Out of the 56,000 HIV-positive residents who need antiretroviral treatment, only 11% -- or about 6,200 -- have access to the drugs, according to UNICEF and government officials (AFP/Today Online, 11/29).