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Dec 3, 2009
via Africa News blog

House calls for an HIV test

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          It’s easy to avoid going to a hospital or clinic for an HIV test but what would you do if those carrying out the tests came to your house? The Kenyan government recently launched a door-to-door testing campaign and here’s how people in the country are reacting to the programme.In the village of Asega in the Rift Valley, life is slow and newcomers are rare, so when health workers turned up recently there was a lot of curiosity. They came to test residents for HIV as part of a government initiative.Most people in Asega are farmers and spend long hours cultivating land. The nearest health facility is a district hospital which is about 30 minutes drive away and many people don’t have the time to go there.Social worker Faith Nekesa tests about 20 people every day.  When she worked in a hospital only about three people would come in for tests daily.”These areas are far from hospitals … so that’s why we decided to bring our services here because of the distance and their need,” she told Reuters Africa Journal.According to the government about 5.1 percent of the country’s 35 million people are infected with HIV. Kenya’s HIV AIDS prevalence rate has dropped by half over the last decade, mainly because of government and donor funded awareness programmes.However many people still don’t know their status and some are sceptical about mobile testing.”We are aware that people must be tested but this doesn’t mean that I can be tested on the street; this cannot be, this is like risking my own life,” said one man. “I can’t be tested. This will bring stress and trauma in my life, this cannot be.”The Kenyan government launched a door-to-door campaign at the end of November this year that hopes to test a million people over a three-week period. Will it win over the doubters?

Aug 16, 2009
via Africa News blog

Lesotho takes tourism plunge

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A day at the races? Abseiling down a waterfall? These are among the attractions residents hope will lure tourists to Lesotho.It is struggling with drought and an HIV/AIDS crisis that is believed to have infected about a third of adults.Its economic fortunes have waned too, especially after a new global textile deal in 2005 removed quotas supporting an industry once seen as the kingdom’s future.With limited resources bar its and mountainous landscape — grazing for angora goats — the former British protectorate is dependent on the continent’s economic powerhouse South Africa, which entirely surrounds it.Developing tourism could provide a lifeline.Most of the informal businesses near the town of Semonkong, high in the mountains about 100 km (60 miles) from the capital, are linked in some way to serving holidaymakers. The town’s biggest economic venture is probably the Semonkong Lodge, which employs 30 people and is run by a South African.”I started working at the bus stop with another woman making and selling local bread. The owners of the lodge used to see us there, and they asked us if we could supply bread on a daily basis. It’s the main source of income for all our families,” Itumeleng Rapotsana, who left her family behind in her home village, told Reuters Africa Journal.   Another group of residents offers visitors the experience of abseiling down the gorge where sub-Saharan Africa’s highest single waterfall — Maletsunyane — surges into the river below.So far, just a few hundred tourists a year make it to Semonkong, about a five hour drive by 4×4 from the capital Maseru. Annual tourism revenue for the town is $250,000.Lesotho Tourism Development worker Delphis Ntseli says the government is trying to bring services closer to the town — which has no mains water or electricity — and there are plans to improve access to “help Lesotho capitalise on the uniqueness of the place that Semonkong is”.“As one would imagine, it’s a remote place and being remote is has got its challenges in terms of economic development,” he said.Race days bring a dash of excitement to the town for residents and tourists alike. There are no professional jockeys, indeed most of the jockeys are children, the sons of the trainers and owners, but the prize money and pride ensure stiff competition.”I don’t think I can survive without it, I don’t think I will ever quit this, it is in my blood,” 68-year-old trainer Moreruwa Mohlodisi told Africa Journal. He has bought livestock, built houses and educated his children with the proceeds of racing.Many residents hope the races, the landscape and even the abseiling will attract more people, but the trick will be to find the balance between securing a place on the tourist trail and not losing the town’s soul.(Photos: A villager sits in Moholi, southern Lesotho, October 2004. Reuters/ Lesotho residents on horseback attend inauguration ceremony of water project, March 2004. Reuters/Juda Ngwenya)