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Liapeng Raliengoane Advocates for SRHR Awareness Amid Lesotho’s Health Challenges

23 February 2024 by Limpho Sello

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Freelance journalist, Liapeng Raliengoane, advocates for increased SRHR awareness in Lesotho. Credit: Provided Photo.

“The youth of Leribe once shared with me their struggles in accessing healthcare services during rainy days due to overflowing rivers, rendering them impassable.”

Liapeng Raliengoane, a freelance journalist from Lesotho, highlights the detrimental impact of climate change, a pressing global crisis, on access to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in her country.

“Climate change limits access to health services,” Raliengoane emphasized during an interview with Uncensored News on the sidelines of the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) meeting in Maseru.

The event, which took place on February 14, 2024, was marked by the signing of a SADC PF SRHR, HIV, and AIDS Governance Project Implementation Agreement.

The agreement will see Lesotho implement the second phase of this project aimed at positively impacting cultural norms by prompting a shift in traditional leaders’ attitudes towards SRHR-related matters.

The SADC PF extended an invitation to Raliengoane to address SRHR issues from a journalistic perspective during the meeting on February 15, 2024. The gathering brought together members of parliament from Lesotho’s National Assembly and Senate, development partners, civic groups, and the media.

“Challenges I have identified on the ground while doing community stories include the youth decrying that not all health facilities have the Adolescent Corner, so they find themselves having to queue with elders which discourages them due to fear of judgment from the elders,” Raliengoane expressed during an interview.

She underscored that the lack of resources affects quality access to SRHR despite policies and laws enacted to address SRHR-related issues.

“In my view, addressing this issue will not only remedy access to SRHR but also tackle issues like prioritisation, corruption, and failure to perform by officials where funds have been allocated,” emphasised Raliengoane.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative Innocent Modisaotsile affirmed his organisation’s readiness to collaborate closely with Lesotho’s parliament on a global accountability mechanism.

Modisaotsile stated that this mechanism requires countries to fully adhere to the sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) commitments they made, asking countries to report after every five years.

“And that mechanism is called the Universal Periodic Review. The kingdom (Lesotho) undertook one in 2020 and is in the process of undergoing another,” Modisaotsile elaborated.

Government allocates M3.4 billion to address pressing health needs.

Finance and Development Planning Minister, Dr. Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane. Credit: Newsday Media.

The SADC PF meeting took place a week before Lesotho’s Finance and Development Planning Minister, Dr. Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, delivered her 2024/25 budget estimates.

During her budgetary presentation on February 21, 2024, Dr. Matlanyane emphasised that Lesotho’s growth potential cannot be fully realized without addressing the health and skills shortages currently faced by the country.

“It is essential for Lesotho to continue to strengthen health systems and implement successful nutrition-related policies in hard-to-reach places,” Dr. Matlanyane emphasised, adding that health services constitute an integral component of Lesotho’s budgetary considerations.

“Achieving this will involve an allocation of M3.4 billion. Government will prioritize community engagement in primary healthcare initiatives that present an opportunity for cost-saving measures,” she explained.

Dr. Matlanyane further added, “The emphasis will be more on preventative healthcare measures to alleviate the burden on our healthcare system.”

One of the issues burdening Lesotho’s healthcare system is high maternal mortalities, a scenario that worries the UNFPA. UNFPA is also concerned about the number of women unable to exercise their right to decide child spacing.

“The levels of teenage pregnancies are quite high, as you are aware. And so, we want to explore ways in which we can also work with this honourable parliament to address the issues of unmet needs of women,” highlighted Modisaotsile during the SADC FP meeting.

Lesotho National Assembly Speaker, Tlohang Sekhamane, remarked that the signed SADCPF Implementation Agreement will capacitate members of parliament to effectively deal with SRHR, gender, and climate justice-related issues.

“This Strategic Plan lays emphasis on capacity gaps identified as a pitfall. There is a need to converge efforts to increase knowledge and competencies around themes such as gender equality, child marriage, public financial management, and climate justice,” emphasised Sekhamane.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is pleased that the Lesotho parliament will advance Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), HIV, and AIDS Governance through the SADCPF initiative.

Pepukai Chikukwa, UNAIDS Country Director, highlighted that the SADCPF initiative contributes significantly to the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

 “We remain ready to support the capacity building of members of parliament SRHR/HIV/Gender-based Violence working with others so that they can deliver the project well and perform their functions in this regard well,” explained Chikukwa.

Addressing the abortion health crisis in Lesotho

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) encompass a wide range of issues related to sexual health, reproductive health, and reproductive rights, including access to safe and legal abortion services.

Yet, in Lesotho, abortion remains illegal, with incomplete abortions being the leading cause of female hospital admissions in the country.

In a concerning revelation, a 2022 report from the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics has brought to light a troubling trend within the country’s healthcare system.

“The main reason for female hospital admissions is incomplete abortions, accounting for 24.3 percent,” states the 2022 Health Statistics report.

For the third consecutive year, the Health Statistics Report reveals that incomplete abortion was the leading cause of hospital admissions among females in Lesotho. In 2021, 28 percent of females admitted across the country were due to incomplete abortions, while the 2020 statistics showed a rate of 19.7 percent.

Despite the slight decrease in the latest statistics compared to the 2021 Health Statistics Report, this data highlights a significant and concerning rise in hospital admissions related to incomplete abortions. It underscores the urgent need to strengthen access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services in the country.

Freelance journalist Liapeng Raliengoane strongly believes that the legalization of abortion remains a critical issue in Lesotho.

“Abortion is still a taboo in the country due to several cultural and religious issues. I will make an example of a minor girl child who is raped and falls pregnant, thus needs to abort because her body is not ready for pregnancy,” Raliengoane said.

“The likelihood of miscarried or stillbirth, complications during pregnancy and delivery were significantly higher among those married less than18 years than those married at 18 years or later,” read a 2022 study that explored the socioeconomic factors associated with girl child marriage and its impact on pregnancy outcomes.

Another study, ‘Young adolescent girls are at high risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa: an observational multicounty study’, was designed to evaluate prospectively whether young maternal age may serve as an easily recognisable predictor for adverse pregnancy outcome in sub-Saharan Africa.

This 2016 study indicates that young maternal age was the strongest predictor for adverse pregnancy outcome in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Very young mothers were more likely than their older peers to deliver prematurely or a low birthweight infant—two of the key surrogate markers for adverse pregnancy outcome and infant mortality,” read the study.

The aforementioned discovery, as noted by the authors of this study, aligns with previous findings from various geographical and socioeconomic contexts, indicating an elevated risk of pregnancy among teenagers.

Sekhamane highlighted that the SADCPF initiative provides space for preparation, consultation processes, and adoption of additional legal frameworks, including the implementation of SADC Model Laws pertaining to safe abortion and other social issues.

He emphasised that matters such as safe abortion require attention and action from members of parliament.

Meanwhile, Raliengoane said another SRHR challenge stirring Lesotho in the eye is long walking distances that pregnant women have to cover to access SRH services.

“Remedy would be to have a provision of mobile clinics,” she said.

Raliengoane advocates for journalist empowerment

Lesotho’s Ministry of Health recently trained health journalists on various issues of public health concern, including cancer. Credit: Provided Photo.

Raliengoane emphasised the importance of journalists striving to cover SRHR issues diligently. However, she noted that there is a need for capacity building to enhance their understanding and effective reporting on SRHR matters.

“This is particularly crucial as there are always new reporters entering the industry,” Raliengoane stated.

“The old ones still need refresher courses because the world of knowledge keeps revolving. There is also a need for more SRHR reporting competitions because they help in magnifying and having many stories produced by media houses,” she said.

She added: “We are thankful to organisations that provide trainings and competitions for media practitioners.”

However, she mentioned that covering social issues such as SRHR can have a mental impact on journalists.

“I think the intervention journalists need is of counselling because after writing these stories, they become emotionally affected because before they are journalists, they are human beings. Counselling services could really come in handy,” she said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Dr. Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane underscored the necessity for Lesotho to identify local solutions to health challenges by enhancing the effectiveness of health education.

“This approach not only improves health outcomes but also promotes fiscal sustainability, ensuring that our healthcare investments yield long-term benefits for Basotho,” Dr. Matlanyane said.  

Health journalists contribute to health education worldwide through their storytelling and broadcasting efforts.

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