Lesotho Government, UNICEF, European Union Launch Pilot Program To Provide Financial Support to AIDS Orphans
The Lesotho government in partnership with the European Union and UNICEF has begun a pilot project to provide monetary assistance to children whose parents have died of AIDS-related causes, Inter Press Service reports. The pilot project -- called the Lesotho Child Grants Program -- will be rolled out in 1,200 households in the Mafeteng, Maseru and Qacha's Nek districts.
The program will provide a quarterly cash grant of $38 to help cover the costs of school fees, uniforms, health care and other needs for the children and will target low-income households caring for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, as well as child-headed households. The grants likely will be extended to similar households in other areas of the country by the end of 2011, Inter Press Service reports. Each community participating in the program has formed a Village Verification Committee to support the government in identifying households with eligible children. The first payments will be disbursed in July, with additional payments expected in October and January 2010, according to Inter Press Service.
Peter Beck Christiansen, E.U. ambassador to Lesotho, at a ceremony to mark the program's launch, said, "We discovered that all aspects of fighting HIV/AIDS had been done, but the biggest gap was to mitigate the effects on the innocent orphans and other vulnerable children, who are paying the price, and society's lack of understanding of how to fight the disease individually and as a group." He added that a shift in cultural attitudes regarding sex is necessary to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. "May the adults of Lesotho have the energy, desire and will to change their behavior to avoid adding more orphans to the communities," Christiansen said, adding that Lesotho's health and social welfare minister should appeal to the cabinet to enact the national Child Protection and Welfare Bill.
Aichatou Diawara-Flambert, UNICEF representative in Lesotho, added that the agency's main concern is ensuring that children have access to basic needs. She added, "Evidence from other cash-transfer initiatives around the world indicate that the additional income provided through cash grants is used for health, nutrition and education." In addition, the "cash transfers do not replace other forms of assistance but complement other mechanisms supporting the needy," Diawara-Flambert said.
Lesotho has the third-highest HIV prevalence worldwide, and about 23.2% of the country's population of 1.8 million is HIV-positive, according to Inter Press Service. As of 2007, UNICEF estimated that about 110,000 of Lesotho's 160,000 orphans had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS-related causes (Mutungamiri, Inter Press Service, 5/4).