CNN: Help on horseback for AIDS sufferers in mountain kingdom
February 4, 2011
CNN International reporter Robyn Curnow traveled to Lesotho to document first-hand the Horse Riders for Health, an innovative program which employs horseback riders to ferry blood samples and life-saving medicines across trecherous mountain terrain in the "Kingdom in the Sky." Currnow interviewed the Foundation's Country Director for Lesotho Dr. Leo Buhendwa about the program and its impact in Lesotho, which has the third-highest HIV prevalence in the world.
No mountain is too high for horse riders in Lesotho, who have come up with a unique way of delivering AIDS drugs to remote communities cut off by the country's steep and rocky terrain.
Although it is completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is its own country, with unique customs, culture and challenges.
One challenge for Lesotho is its mountainous landscape, with 80% of the kingdom above 1,800 meters. But the small kingdom has another, more deadly, problem: More than one in four of its two million people are infected with the HIV virus.
But the rugged landscape makes it difficult to deliver life-saving treatment to AIDS sufferers.
Dr. Leo Buhendwa is country director for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. He decided something had to be done to help mountain communities who are often unreachable by road after heavy rains and winter snow.
"Thirty percent of the population was cut off for four months," he said.
"What that means is that for four months they couldn't access care, they couldn't access treatment, and they couldn't access prevention services. So we had to find a solution."
Buhendwa's solution was to set up the Horse Riding for Health program, adapting an old tradition to help those unable to access care.
Ponies are part of life here ... in the winter there is no other means of transport.
"Ponies are part of life here," said Buhendwa. "They use ponies anyway in the mountains -- in the winter there is no other means of transport. So we adapted the reality we found to reach our objectives," he said.
Mabusang Sehaja has a young daughter with HIV. Sehaja said that in order for her daughter to receive treatment they must travel for an hour and a half through steep and rocky terrain.
The remote clinic Sehaja and her daughter visit is the closest one to their village, which treats 152 HIV patients.