- Lesotho, which has one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates, is targeting its large group of migrant workers in a new effort to stop the spread of the pandemic. Migrant workers are a special risk group when it comes to taking the deadly virus back home to the family.
Last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Population Services International (PSI) launched a joint programme aimed at reducing HIV vulnerability among migrants and their families in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.
The programme, which is funded by the Swedish international development cooperation agency (Sida), aims to increase knowledge of HIV/AIDS, access to and use of voluntary counselling and testing services and correct and consistent condom usage. Sporting tournaments, raining and outreach activities are to be organised to promote HIV prevention and testing services.
According to IOM, the new programme is to target mineworkers and their families, Lesotho Defence Force personnel, factory workers and taxi drivers. Lesotho has a long history of migrating mine workers, which have provided South Africa with a large and stable quantity of cheap labour during the last century.
Like other neighbouring countries, Lesotho is heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS, with an estimated HIV adult prevalence rate of 28.9 percent in 2004. Reflecting a general situation in Southern Africa, the disease certainly has crossed into Lesotho from South Africa.
This is also the view of IOM. "The HIV epidemic is partly fuelled by regional labour migration trends," the organisation says. Fifteen percent of Lesotho's total labour force - or about 64,000 people - is employed in South African mines.
Lesotho also hosts an important number of migrant factory workers, taxi drivers and members of the uniformed services. These are mostly Basotho from rural parts of the Kingdom, working in Maseru. Also they contribute to the spread of AIDS if they have unprotected sex in the capital.
- Labour migration leaves both the workers and their spouses vulnerable to HIV infection, commented Julia Hill-Mlati of IOM Pretoria. "Being mobile in itself is not a risk factor for HIV/AIDS. It is the situations encountered and the behaviours that migrants might adopt during the migration process that increase vulnerability to HIV/AIDS," she explains.
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