Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its GDP per capita was just $1,400, in 2017, according to the IMF. This ranks it at 150 out of 186 countries.
Lesotho has the second highest rates of HIV in the world, with prevalence at around 25%. The HIV epidemic in Lesotho was declared a national disaster in 2000. Life expectancy in Lesotho is just 54 years, placing it 178 of 183 countries.
The problems of high HIV rates are compounded in Lesotho by a highly patriarchal society (Morojele, Pholoho, 2009) combined with high levels of violence against women (Motalingoane-Khau, Mathabo, 2007). Sex education in Lesotho is poor (Mturi, 2005). Pushing for greater gender equality in Lesotho – an end in itself – will also address one of the key risk factors amongst women and girls, who are at much higher risk from HIV (35% of 25-29 year-old women were HIV positive in 2009, compared to 18% of men).
A lack of resources hinders prevention and treatment. A UNDP Youth Survey reported “a low consistent condom usage amongst youth that were sexually active (31 percent)” and “a very low percentage of youth who knew their HIV status (63 percent)”.
Lesotho’s youth face a number of other challenges. Unemployment rates are high, and particularly so amongst young people (> 30%). Kids often turn to drink, drugs and smoking for entertainment – the UNDP survey showed 21% smoke and 20% drink regularly. Diets are poor, with 44% of young people consuming at least one meal a day consisting only of pap.
Sport receives limited government funding in Lesotho. Most kids outside Maseru have little opportunity to participate in team sports because of lack of funding for equipment, like balls. Very few children we teach have ever seen a rugby match. This means they miss out on the opportunity to exercise, with all of the associated health benefits.
Despite these, Lesotho receives limited international support. Our analysis shows that in 2015, foreign aid amounted to less than 8% of GDP, behind other regional countries such as Zambia (9%), Mozambique (15%) and Malawi (19%). According to Cathy Ferrier, Sentebale CEO, “As the data shows, adolescents and young people in sub-Saharan Africa have been left behind in the AIDS response leading to an increase in new infections and death rates.”
Clearly, more needs to be done in Lesotho to bring the spread of HIV under control and give the children of Lesotho better life prospects.
The need is urgent: young people are at the highest risk of contracting HIV. According to Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygine & Tropical Medicine, “The largest generation of adolescents in history is at risk of HIV, and the situation is particularly urgent for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, nearly 7,500 young women aged 15–24 years acquired HIV every week. Most of these new infections were in Southern and Eastern Africa where adolescents may often struggle to access HIV prevention and treatment. Services aren’t always well tailored to young people’s particular needs, and rarely engage with the reality of being a young person living with or at risk of HIV.”