- According to the Red Cross, "HIV/AIDS prevalent rates are up to 50 percent" at the border between northern Botswana and Namibia's Caprivi Zipfel. The Red Cross in its appeal to donors also operates with an adult HIV prevalence of close to 40 percent in Botswana, despite government figures at 17.3 percent. In Namibia, HIV prevalence is set at 21.3 percent.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has published its annual appeals for donations for a large number of nations around the world. In the appeals for Southern African countries, special emphasis is put on the need to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with the appeals describing several projects to fight the disease by national Red Cross societies.
The HIV prevalence rates described in the emergency appeals from throughout the region, however are controversial. In its annual Botswana appeal to donors, the Red Cross states that the country "struggles with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world with up to more than 40 percent among the adults aged 15-49 years."
The appeal to donors strongly contrasts recently released Batswana government figures, which put the HIV prevalence rate at less than half of the Red Cross' numbers. The 2004 Botswana AIDS Impact Survey - involving anonymous testing of a scientific sample of over 14,000 Batswana citizen - concluded that 17.3 percent of the population was infected by the deadly virus.
This still high figure "gives no cause for comfort," the Batswana presidency stated in December. Nevertheless, the survey had demonstrated that "global headlines claiming that 40 percent or even 'nearly half' of all Batswana are HIV positive" had "always been a distortion," according to the government.
The Red Cross appeal however sticks to the "40 percent" rate for Botswana. Unlike other reports - pointing to HIV surveys of pregnant women that had registered a close to 40 percent prevalence rate - the appeal by the International Red Cross refers to a general "HIV/AIDS prevalence rate" among Botswana's "adults aged 15-49 years."
According to the same appeal, there were even regions where half of the population was infected with HIV. The Botswana Red Cross had now launched a joint programme to fight AIDS with Namibia Red Cross and Zambia Red Cross across their common borders along the Caprivi Strip/Zipfel, the Botswana appeal said, urging for international funds.
- The cross border project constitutes a significant step in trying to curb the pandemic in an area where the HIV/AIDS prevalent rates are up to 50 percent, the appeal said. It did neither specify these data nor provide references. "The boarder posts between the three countries are busy with people travelling back and forth and this constant movement has called for a common approach in fighting HIV/AIDS related diseases," the Red Cross however explained to potential donors.
In the Red Cross' annual appeal for Namibia, which mentions Caprivi as one of the country's most HIV affected provinces, the national HIV prevalence rate is set at 21.3 percent. Here, no HIV figures are given for the Caprivi province, but the appeal mentions local anti-AIDS initiatives organised by the Namibia Red Cross.
The Namibian HIV prevalence, referring to the 15-49 age group, is set higher by the Red Cross than Botswana's official rate. The national appeals for other countries of the region also operate with very high HIV prevalence numbers, such as 38.8 percent for Swaziland, 28.9 percent for Lesotho, 24.6 percent for Zimbabwe, 24.3 percent for South Africa and 16.5 percent for Zambia.
In all national appeals, the Red Cross refers to HIV prevalence in the 15-49 age group, presenting statistics produced by the UN's AIDS agency, UNAIDS, as if they were national numbers. UNAIDS however presents these figures more cautiously as they are the results of national HIV surveys among pregnant women. According to representative national surveys among the entire population, such as in Botswana, these numbers do not correspond with national figures.
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