Lesotho News

Basotho ponies help reach health clinics in the sky

October 4, 2010

Mokhotlong, Lesotho – Lesotho’s Mokhotlong district epitomizes the landscapes for which the tiny southern African country known as the “Kingdom in the Sky” is famous.

Steep mountain peaks are dotted with villages, which are accessible only by rough dirt tracks that are impassable during the snowiest months of winter and the rainiest months of summer.

These logistical challenges hamper access to health care in a country already battling the world’s third-highest HIV prevalence (23.2 per cent of adults) as well as high levels of maternal/infant mortality and malnutrition rates.

Now, health authorities in Mokhotlong, working in partnership with the US-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), have found a solution – one that involved literally rethinking the wheel.

Horse rider Potso Seote rides through a pass in the Maloti Mountains

Horse rider Potso Seote rides through a pass in the Maloti Mountains (Photo: epa)

For the past three years, under the Horse-riding for Health programme, Mokhotlong district has been using Basotho ponies to ferry blood samples and medication to and from remote mountain clinics.

These locally-bred animals, which have evolved to handle Lesotho’s rough terrain and difficult weather conditions, have a better grip than any 4×4.

“We were looking for a way to reach these remote populations that cannot be reached by car for four months out of the year,” said EGPAF Country Director Leopold Buhendwa.

“We thought, why not try the horse? In the very high mountains, if you want to travel far, the only way is by horse.”

Rather than purchasing ponies for health workers to ride, which would require costly training and maintenance, EGPAF and the health authorities pay local pony owners to carry supplies to and from remote clinics.

Apart from filling a gap in the health system the programme also provides a livelihood for the riders.

Lesotho’s unemployment rate hovers around 23 per cent.

Village children skip rope in Mokhotlong district

Village children skip rope in Mokhotlong district (Photo: epa)

“I heard they wanted people to ride horses to the clinics,” said Potso Seoete, a horse-owner from Polomiti village. “It is good that I am able to assist people who are ill, especially those with HIV who are on ARVs [antiretroviral drugs].”

With the money 30-year-old Seoete earns through the programme, he is able to feed his horse and buy food for his wife and two children. Riders receive 300 Loti (about 42 dollars) per clinic trip.

Several times a week, Seoete leaves home at 7:00 am to make the 30-minute rid along Mokhotlong’s main road to Mapholaneng Red Cross Clinic. There, he is given an insulated bag and a delivery of ARVs, if additional ARV supplies are needed.

From that clinic it’s more than a three-hour ride to the Molika- liko Health Centre, which sits on a barren plateau over 3,000 metres above sea level.

Horse rider Potso Seote places blood smaples from head nurse Lucy Namusonge in a carrier bag.

Horse rider Potso Seote places blood smaples from head nurse Lucy Namusonge in a carrier bag. (Photo: epa)

At Molika-liko, Seoete drops off the ARVs and picks up blood samples taken that morning. Most of the samples have been taken to measure the CD4 counts of patients previously diagnosed with HIV – a measure of how far the virus has progressed and whether the patient should begin taking ARVs.

To yield accurate results, the samples must reach the laboratory at Mokhotlong Hospital within six hours of being drawn.

Seoete rides back to Mapholaneng and hands the bag to a waiting motorbike rider, who then transports the samples to the hospital about 20 kilometres away. The samples reach the laboratory by mid- afternoon……..

Read the rest of the original article on EarthTimes

Article By : Heather Mason

Pictures by: European Pressphoto Agency

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