Key populations at higher risk in Mokhotlong

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By Lineo Ramatlapeng

A sex workers association representative working in Mokhotlong says sex workers are part of key populations at the highest risk of contracting HIV due to the nature of their work that exposes them to risks of being infected.

Chabeli Monyake, speaking with KDNews on behalf of the association said Mokhotlong is yet to get an indepth understanding of sex work as work, as a health issue and a community issue.

He said with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II construction of Polihali dam underway, a town of Mapholaneng sees an influx of construction workers, increased poverty levels caused by many reasons such as COVID-19, sex work remains to be very addictive in Mokhotlong.

Monyake said, “90% of Mokhotlong district is still rural, a majority still discriminate and a hideaway”.

Key populations, Thabo Lebaka of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) program analyst on HIV/AIDS said are people at high risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS due to occupation, gender, socialization and sexual orientations said

Lebaka explained that health sectors should intervene by recommending prevention through comprehensive condom and lubricant programming, harm reduction for people who inject drugs, behavioural interventions, prevention of transmission in health care settings, PEP/PrEP, VMMC and testing services.

Lebaka said there is need to set up service provision centres with programmatic, customised service delivery tailored for key populations.

As part of the establishment of these centres, Lebaka added that health care providers are sensitised and trained to handle key populations hence are encouraged to access services at these centres.

Services to be offered include, “HIV prevention, treatment and care services, HPV vaccination, STI, hepatitis (B and C), cancer screening and treatment and prevention commodities,” said Lebaka.

Lebaka said interventions to prevent or improve mental health issues and risky sexual practices among key populations are critical in addressing the HIV epidemic.

Lebaka adds the challenges that key populations individuals face such as violence (sexual, physical, psychological), social exclusion and discrimination often affect health-seeking behaviour.

He emphasised there is a need to have key populations friendly counsellors at every health centre and develop referral systems that offer comprehensive counselling services to key populations that go beyond health-related needs and risks.

“There is need to also take advantage of lay counsellors and key populations champions to extend services into communities,” said Lebaka.

Lebaka said it should improve the demand and uptake of health and HIV services in general among key populations.

According to Lebaka, there is also a need to sensitise and raise awareness around key populations and human dignity and how their response can shape the environment.

Pending legal reform which may take years, Lebaka said, “There is need to advocate for cease of arrests and detention of sex workers and members of LGBTI community”.

The level of knowledge and experience the key populations’ group have, Lebaka said can be tapped into systematically to shape a sustainable HIV response.

Lebaka added that key populations groups offer significant social and emotional support to key populations communities in ways that are not easily replicated and hence technical and financial support to KP become key.

“Critical enablers include law and policy improvement, reduction of stigma and discrimination, community empowerment and violence elimination,” Lebaka explained.

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