From: Peter Limb, University of Western Australia
Date sent: Fri, 3 Nov 1995
MASERU, Lesotho (PANA) - Talking about the incurable disease, AIDS, to this bar tender at a hotel in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, his reaction was: "I do not believe there is AIDS in Lesotho. Actually there is no AIDS here as far as I know".
"Until I see someone who is suffering from AIDS, then I might believe there is a disease like that," said the bar tender, who works in this hotel, known for its teeming prostitutes.
He was interviewed a day after a story appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, Lesotho Today, on the reported cases of AIDS in the country.
The bartender is among many Basotho men and women who still believe that the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS, does not exist but just a myth.
They say they have never seen anyone or heard of anyone who is either infected or has died of AIDS.
And a street vendor, Joseph Lebesa says if AIDS does exist it is just like any other epidemics that have come and gone, so it will disappear.
He vowed that no matter what "lies" medical practitioners preached to him about AIDS, he would not change his sexual behaviour.
According to Joseph, Basotho men had the duty to prove their manhood by having many lovers.
"AIDS is just a joke. I cannot afford to have just one woman, when there are so many of them. Anyway, it is unheard of in Lesotho to have just one woman-we have to have variety - a person cannot eat meat or cabbage everyday - this is the same with women".
A local prostitute, Mathabo, said most of her clients preferred not to use condoms because, like her, they do not accept the disease exists.
"If Jane who has been in the field for 15 years now and who actually trained us is still fit, then there is no AIDS in Lesotho," Mathabo laughed heartily, as she talked with this reporter.
A Maseru schoolgirl, Caroline, said as far as she was conerned, there was nothing like aids, so why practise safe sex ?
AIDS is a viral infection that damages the immune system, making the infected person vulnerable to opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhoea.
There are more than 17 million people worldwide infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Of these, 15.3 million or 90 per cent from Africa.
Health experts here caution that although AIDS cases in Lesotho are still officially very low, the Basotho had better avoid the mistakes made by other African countries, like Zimbabwe, when the first cases were reported in the late 1980s.
For lack of prompt preventive measures, HIV cases in Zimbabwe have soared to one million people during the past eight years.It was only after friends and relatives died that Zimbabweans started accepting that AIDS kills.
Currently, there are 810 cases reported at government health institutions of full blown AIDS in Lesotho. It is estimated that there are at least 4 000 such cases in the country of 1.8 million people.
Lesotho put in place an awareness educational programmes about five years ago to try and arrest the spread of the dreaded disease but there has not been any significant impact on sexual behaviour.
But the director of the disease control unit Dr Pearl Ntsekhe conceded government's efforts to promote aids awarenes have been futile. "We are facing a major task ahead because we have to prove that there is AIDS and that it kills."
The fact that cases of sexually transmitted diseases cases were as high as 140 000 a year showed there is nothing like safe-sex in Lesotho, she said.
"Like other African nations, Lesotho will probably only start believing that there is aids after thousands of people, mainly close friends and relatives, have died. By then for some it would already be too late as they might have been infected," Dr Ntsekhe said.