With online mobilization, a Pact partner in Lesotho reaches critical groups with HIV services
Because of discrimination and stigma, in Lesotho, men who have sex with men often are afraid to seek out HIV and other health services. Yet they are among the most important groups to reach, as they are at high risk for contracting HIV.
For the past three years, with support from Pact, Phelisanang Bophelong has been successfully reaching men who have sex with men, or MSM, with critical HIV services. Phelisanang Bophelong is a local organization in Lesotho that partners with Pact through a project funded by Global Fund to reduce HIV rates in the country, which has been devastated by the AIDS epidemic.
Phelisanang Bophelong’s services are designed and led by MSM, delivered to and for MSM in locations where they feel comfortable. One of the approaches that has worked best for Phelisanang Bophelong is online mobilization, where participants have confidentiality and don’t have to fear being outed. Using online platforms, the organization delivers messages and education about HIV and TB and encourages MSM to seek testing, treatment and prevention services. MSM peer educators answer questions about HIV and make referals to MSM-friendly clinical providers.
"We are all human. We all want to be loved, to belong, to be seen, so we should treat each other that way."
Relebohile Tlhanya is among those who Phelisanang Bophelong first reached online. Born and raised in urban Thaba-Tseka, he didn’t share openly that he is gay because he feared discrimination and harassment. But he felt comfortable messaging with an MSM peer educator online. The peer educator linked him to HIV services at his health division men’s clinic.
Still, he wasn’t ready to open up about his identity, but that soon changed. He was invited to a peer education session for key populations in his district. There he met other MSM and realized he didn’t need to hide anymore. He introspected, accepted himself and started taking part in many of the activities that Phelisanang Bophelong organized locally, including “safe space” meetings.
Today, Relebohile is living his life to the best of his ability.
“Throughout my life, I have been exposed to stigma and cultural opposition to same-sex relations,” he says. “What I have learned through the Phelisanang Bophelong HIV program is that we are all human. We all want to be loved, to belong, to be seen, so we should treat each other that way. I hope I can encourage everyone out there who is facing any adversities or challenges to talk about their stories.”