World AIDS Day in Lesotho

Young Basotho raising awareness of HIV prevention on Dec. 1, on the streets of Maseru. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – For most of us, AIDS in an abstract affliction. In southern Africa, it’s an inescapable reality. In fact, the world’s top four infection rates are found down here: topping the list is Swaziland, followed by Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa. Lesotho, at 23 percent, is my home for the next three years.

So today when I happened upon a demonstration in downtown Maseru today to mark World AIDS Day, it resonated that much more. The young people out in force weren’t only chanting in support of their parents, siblings and friends struck down by the infection – they demanded vigilance by their peers. With good reason: their generation is disproportionately affected.

A young Mosotho spreads the word to a passer-by. (Photo: mjj)

[More photos posted inside.]

Flashing the red card. (Photo: mjj)

Organized by the anti-HIV sports program Kick 4 Life, they handed out football-referee-like “red cards” with the telephone number of a free HIV textline – accessible even if a phone is drained of units — plus warnings against what I assume is the riskiest behavior down here.

As the card reads, Give someone a Red Card for putting themselves or someone else at HIGH RISK of getting HIV.

Red Card Fouls:

*Having more than 1 sex partner;

*Using sex to get things;

*Giving things to get sex;

*Drinking too much alcohol;

*Hitting a woman or forcing sex;

*Girls having sex with older guys;

The red card includes a free HIV textline. (Photo: mjj)

On this World AIDS Day, as the pandemic enters its fourth decade, the United Nations and U.S. President Barack Obama renewed pledges to “end AIDS” and “beat this disease.”

From my new perch in Lesotho, I’ll be watching to what degree those antiretroviral drugs trickle down to the most remote of victims.

Helping stamp out HIV in Lesotho. (Photo: mjj)
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