For busy garment workers in Lesotho, health care comes on wheels

’Mantina Mphohle receiving health services inside a new mobile clinic, near the factory where she works. © UNFPA Lesotho
  • 18 October 2016

MAPUTSOE, Lesotho – When factory worker ’Mantina Mphohle, 31, was hit by a car recently, she took two days of sick leave. That time off was unpaid. “You can imagine how disappointed I was when I realized my salary had been cut for the two days that I was away from work,” she told UNFPA.

Her situation is sadly common. Lack of paid leave means workers in the Maputsoe industrial area often end up forgoing essential health care.

The area has 22 garment factories, and an estimated 20,000 factory workers. About 80 per cent of them are women. If their sexual and reproductive health needs are not met, these women could face a cascade of health concerns, including unplanned pregnancies, maternal health complications and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.

’Makhabisi Polane, head of the Maputsoe Seventh Day Adventist health facility, said she once delivered a baby whose mother had not visited a health facility at all during her pregnancy: “There was no clinic, no baby clothes, nothing. The mother said at the factory where she worked, they were not allowed time off to get to a clinic.”

The mobile clinics offer family planning care, maternal health services, and HIV testing and treatment. © UNFPA Lesotho

But starting in February, a mobile reproductive health clinic – operated by the Seventh Day Adventist health facility, with support from UNFPA – has been providing these critical services in the industrial area, five days a week, free of charge.

Family planning, antenatal care, HIV services

The mobile clinic provides family planning counselling and supplies, including contraceptives such as condoms. It also offers antenatal check-ups for pregnant women, and provides HIV counselling, testing and treatment.

“I am very happy that I will now get the services free of charge from outside my work place,” Ms. Mphohle said.

The clinic will not only support the thousands of women regularly employed in the nearby garment factories – it will also benefit job-hunters in the area.

Kholu Jonathan, 18, has been queuing at the factories, looking for work. “The mobile clinic is very helpful to us,” she said, “especially since we are not employed yet.”

Care amid an epidemic

These services are especially critical in Lesotho, where the HIV prevalence rate is extremely high – 23 per cent, to the most recent figures from UNAIDS.

“In this scourge, women are more affected by the epidemic with prevalence of 27 per cent,” says the Ministry of Health’s 2015 Global AIDS Response Progress Report, citing data from 2009. And among factory workers, HIV prevalence is even higher: 43 per cent, according to the government report.

'Mantina Mphohle outside the new mobile clinic, which aims to increase access to several kinds of life-saving services. © UNFPA Lesotho 

The mobile clinic is part of efforts to integrate HIV counselling, testing and treatment into broader reproductive health care, helping to reach more people with all of these life-saving services. For instance, more than a quarter of women in Lesotho receiving antenatal care are living with HIV, the government report indicated; these women require both maternal health care and HIV services.

The mobile clinic programme is part of a partnership between UNFPA and UNAIDS, with support from the European Union and the governments of Sweden and Norway. The family planning commodities are mainly supported by UNFPA Supplies, the world's largest global fund dedicated to family planning. The programme is also part of UNFPA’s global efforts to provide health services to women in the workplace.

– Violet Maraisane

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