- HIV prevalence among young pregnant women in Botswana has now reached 39 percent and is set to increase even more. Today, as World AIDS Day is marked, the Batswana government is however hailed for having taken the lead of the country's growing anti-AIDS movement.
According to UNAIDS, the AIDS epidemic in Botswana shows no signs of levelling off. HIV prevalence among young pregnant women aged 15-24 remains at 39 percent. An estimated 330,000 people are living with HIV in the country.
Botswana is the country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world. It was therefore only natural that Dr Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the UN's AIDS agency, today commemorated World AIDS Day with people living with HIV/AIDS in Francistown, Botswana's second city. Batswana President Festus Mogae was also present at the event.
Dr Piot in a speech applauded President Mogae for his "leadership in the fight against AIDS." Although the government waited too long taking the pandemic seriously, Botswana's political leaders now are recognised for their firm action to turn the tide.
- Botswana's growing AIDS movement is the result of President Mogae's leadership and openness on AIDS coupled with the active involvement of people living with HIV, Dr Piot said in Francistown today. "By breaking the silence on AIDS, President Mogae has not only galvanised the whole African continent, but become a true leader in the global AIDS fight," he added.
Despite having an adult HIV prevalence at close to 40 percent, Botswana has managed to mount an effective response to AIDS over the past few years, according to UNAIDS.
Botswana is also the first African country to embark on a programme of rolling out free antiretrovirals to all its citizens living with HIV who need treatment. The biggest obstacles to accessing the medicines are the lack of trained health workers to effectively deliver antiretrovirals and stigma.
The stigma surrounding AIDS not only deters people from getting an HIV test, but turns people away from seeking care and treatment. "AIDS-related stigma must be eliminated if we are going to win the fight against AIDS," Dr Piot therefore said in his speech.
With this year's global movement to ensure greater access to HIV treatment, UNAIDS not only hopes to prolong the lives of those living with HIV in some of the worst-affected countries, but also to prevent thousands of new HIV infections as more people have access to voluntary counselling and testing services.
More resources will be used in the coming years. "The global initiative to provide 3 million people with access to HIV treatment by 2005, coupled with President Bush's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS, launched earlier this year, offers renewed hope for HIV-positive people in Botswana," said Jean Alfazema Kalilani, Chair of the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS, and Bjørn Førde, UN Resident Coordinator in Botswana.
AIDS is a core theme of the development assistance framework under which the UN system seeks support for Botswana’s development. "Although Botswana has one of the strongest economies in Africa, its prosperity could soon be wiped out by AIDS," according to Dr Piot.
- To fight AIDS effectively everywhere we must change the rules of international development assistance, the UNAIDS leader said. "For example, Botswana's AIDS programme must be eligible for the most favourable conditions of grants by international financing and development institutions," he said. Botswana currently is considered "too rich" for such aid.
Dr Piot in Francistown concluded that "AIDS prevention programmes, particularly targeting young people, must be scaled up dramatically if we want to keep future generations HIV-free."
The Francistown World AIDS Day event was organised by Botswana's network for people living with HIV/AIDS (BONEPWA+). President Mogae, along with Peter Ngoma, the Mayor of Francistown, Elizabeth Montsheng, Chairperson of BONEPWA+, and Mr Piot, spoke at the event.
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