“After ten years of model programs through the African Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Partnership established in 2000, Botswana is now hailed as the champion and an example for the rest of Africa and beyond, in the fight against the HIV epidemic,” said Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Merck Company Foundation of the United States of America (USA).
Rosenblatt spoke at the launch of the second phase of the ACHAP Support Programme where both his organization and the Bill and Melinda Foundation pledged an additional US $60 million worth of support at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) this past week.
Already, ACHAP, which is a publicÔÇôprivate partnership initiative between Botswana governments and the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation (B&MGF) and MSD/Merck Company Foundation (MSD) have benefitted more than US $179 million since its establishment.
Rosenblatt explained that it was intended through the second phase of the programme to help sustain the effect of the portfolio of antiretroviral medicines and the funding contributed by MSD and the B& MGF, in view of the challenges presented by overall global funding shortfalls.
“The government of Botswana and we, as your partners, began this partnership with comprehensive plans focused on the greatest needs at that time, namely treatment and care for those already afflicted, and the results now attest to the power and passion of our partnership,” said the MSD CEO, trained Medical expert.
In highlighting the difference brought by ACHAP’s intervention, mention was made of the fact that as at now 90% of the population infected with HIV and AIDS who are in need of treatment were receiving it, which was estimated to be the highest coverage rate in Africa, especially that it was 5% at the time of inception of the partnership.
By delivering treatment, the partnership, according the MSD chief, has prevented tens of thousands of deaths, the number of people dying from HIV and AIDS is believed to be half of what it was back in 2002.
In acknowledgment, President Ian Khama pointed out that the amount of support given by MSD and the B&MGF was highly commendable and in many ways formed a significant component of the defining features of the achievements associated with Botswana’s successful national response strategy to HIV and AIDS.
Some of the contributions by ACHAP mentioned by Khama included the introduction of routine testing and training of counselors, services which he said could not be adequately provided by government at public health facilities.
There was a point when ACHAP met up to 40 percent of national rapid test kit requirements.
“This helped ensure the success of government’s routine HIV testing effort, significantly improving uptake of both treatment and prevention of mother to child transmission(PMTCT) services, and going a long way in helping Botswana achieve universal access targets,” the President stated.
Khama expressed appreciation for the US organizations in particular, and donor community generally for the support given to his county, adding that as a show of commitment his government has sanctioned 70 percent of expenditure on HIV and AIDS as reflected by the latest national spending.
For his part, Dr. Themba Moeti, the Managing Director of ACHAP, was happy that the second phase of the support offered by MSD and B&MG F, to his organization and the country presented an opportunity to build on the successes of the first phase, in terms of treatment.
“Now we will be focusing on raising awareness of communities on the importance of prevention and the risks of HIV even in the context of widely available and accessible HIV treatment,” said Moeti.
He added that, one effective highlighting the importance of prevention will be to commit greater resources to interventions such safe male circumcision which are known to be effective in significantly reducing HIV risk.
Notwithstanding the undoubted strides Botswana has made, including through ACHAP’s support in many areas, Uyapo Ndadi, Director, Botswana Network of Ethics and Law on HIV and AIDS(BONELA), has said, “More still has to be done in terms of closing the cracks in our intervention strategy, by addressing issues relating to sexual minorities, prisoners and migrant and refugee populations.”