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World AIDS Day 2009: Botswana

December 2, 2009

I was trying to post this yesterday when we had a power cut so I lost the internet, so here it is today – you’ll just have to pretend.

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Today is the 21st World AIDS Day. Living in Botswana, there was no way that I could let the day pass without mentioning it.

The Numbers
According to the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey of 2008 (BAIS 2008), it is estimated that

  • 17.6% of the population is HIV+
  • 20.4% of all females
  • 14.2% of all males

Take a little time with those figures. How many people work in your building? How many were in your class at school? Imagine if nearly 2 in every 10 people you know, grannies and kids included, were living with HIV.

In the 15-24 age group, twice as many girls and young women are infected with HIV as their male counterparts.

In my age group (30-35 year olds) the national prevalence rate is nearly 40%. Among women in that group it’s nearly 50%. Think about the implications of half of your female friends being HIV+.

The Response
In 2002, under then President Festus Mogae, Botswana became the first African country to offer free anti-retroviral drugs to those living with HIV on the MASA programme.

  • The program has saved an estimated 47,000 lives.
  • Today, Botswana’s adult ART coverage rate is more than 95% – the highest in Africa.
  • The rate of adherence to treatment is 85-90% – one of the highest in the world.
  • Routine testing was introduced in 2004. Over 90% of those offered a test accept it.

There’s barely a shop counter that doesn’t also give space to a choice of condoms. There are posters and billboards all over the place, urging us to “Know your status” and “Keep the Promise” and asking “Who’s in your sexual network?” There are education programs, prevention programs and behaviour change programs. The Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission program (PMTCT) has slashed transmission rates to new-borns to less than 4%, earning global recognition and preventing an estimated 7,800 new infections.

There are a multitude of organizations working to provide care for those infected and those affected by HIV and AIDS. The Anglican Diocese of Botswana is one of them and we have several projects running at the moment, with more planned. I’ll tell you more about them in due course.

The Future

One of the biggest challenges facing Botswana is the stigma attached to HIV+ status. In his address today (1st Dec 2009), President Seretse Khama Ian Khama called on the people of Botswana to challenge prejudice and discrimination against those living with HIV. He committed his government to challenging all laws that stand in the way of access to proper care, treatment and dignity adding, “Protecting human rights and promoting public health are mutually reinforcing.”

This is more good news. It builds on Mogae’s legacy, and will contribute to the government’s target of no new infections by 2016 (under the Vision 2016 goals). There was scepticism when MASA was launched, but Botswana proved it was possible. There is scepticism now about the goal for 2016. Education and inspiring behaviour change are crucial if this target is to be achieved. Botswana has come a long way in it’s response to HIV and AIDS but it still has a long way to go.

In the UK we have an ongoing debate about whether sex education encourages young people into sexual activity. That question is raised here too, but it has even more weight. Whereas in the UK, it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to discuss sex, in Tswana culture it is virtually impossible to discuss it at any time. Not even priests can raise the issue comfortably. Until this deeply ingrained reluctance to discuss sexual matters such as safe sex, multiple consecutive partnerships and sexual violence, I fear the goal for 2016 is a very long way away indeed.

Some interesting reads

  • Nata Village Blog – day to day life in Nata, a village in northern Botswana that’s been hit hard by HIV/AIDS.
  • HIV and AIDS in Botswana – some interesting background and commentary on the current situation in Botswana.
  • Juhie Bhatia’s article for Global Voices ‘World AIDS Day: Reflections and Raising Awareness’
  • Links to more information about Blogging Positively – a collection of case studies, interviews, and tips about citizen media related to HIV/AIDS.
  • A map of HIV-positive bloggers, people and groups who blog about HIV/AIDS, and and citizen media related to HIV/AIDS. Published by Global Voices bloggers on World Aids Day 2008.

Additional resources:

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave and John permalink
    December 2, 2009 10:11 pm

    Good to see you back on again. Have you got the internet access sorted out yet then?

    Loved both your recent posts. Your writing is really descriptive.

    xxxx D

    • oneredsock permalink
      December 3, 2009 9:24 am

      Thanks, I’m glad you like them. I’ve been writing quite a few things recently (albeit not blog posts!) so I think that’s given me some practice. Still having issues with access but really hope they’ll be sorted by the weekend. What they claim will be a two day process is currently entering it’s third week. Gotta love the customer service!

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