Lesotho: Road Show Raises HIV/AIDS Awareness and Fosters Goodwill in Lesotho (May 2009)

Recently, the Public Diplomacy section at the U.S. Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho teamed up with the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) country team to bring Dr. Amita Gupta, Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Clinical Global Health Education, to Lesotho for an HIV/AIDS road show.

While in Lesotho, Dr. Gupta traveled to universities, clinics, and communities across the nation to speak about HIV/AIDS. Her presentations focused on her experiences in the United States and India, as well as the other countries where she has worked.

At National University, Dr. Gupta spoke to over 100 faculty and students at the school's new Faculty of Health Sciences. Her lecture focused on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and the benefits of early treatment initiation. Following her talk, staff and students engaged her in a lively discussion about the issue of breastfeeding for HIV-positive mothers, a continuous conversation in Lesotho.

While visiting the Sea Point Support Group, Dr. Gupta spoke with the all-woman group that provides HIV counseling and testing and invests in income generating projects such as egg production, beadwork, and porridge bottling and supply, about their experiences working with HIV-positive individuals. Here, Dr. Gupta listened to the everyday issues these women face including abject poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, stigma, and high mortality rates due to AIDS. She encouraged the women to continue to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

During her time in Lesotho, Dr. Gupta also spoke to the National AIDS Commission (NAC), local PEPFAR partners and staff members at the Makoanyane Military Hospital, and doctors and nurses at the Baylor Clinic.

While her presentations varied depending on her audience, Dr. Gupta always stressed the importance of treatment and its impact on survival rates for HIV-positive individuals. Throughout the tour she continually urged people living with HIV/AIDS to initiate treatment early.

As a result of this road trip, PEPFAR Lesotho reached a large audience with HIV/AIDS messaging through television, newspaper, and live radio interviews. Many groups requested Dr. Gupta's return and at the same time thanked the U.S. Government for their continuing support in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"We are appreciative as a country for the U.S. Government's efforts to bring speakers like Dr. Gupta to share experiences that the Government of Lesotho can learn from," said the NAC's Director of Policy Strategy and Communication. "It makes people aware that we are all grappling with the same issues," he said.

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