In the early 90s AIDS was all over the news and Batswana cringed at the thought of sharing the same drinking cup with an HIV infected friend. Most would not even touching or use the same toilet with an HIV positive colleague.
A very successful pro HIV campaign later, a number of Batswana men and women Batswana are knowingly shagging up with HIV positive partners. The triumphant crusade by HIV\AIDS advocacy groups to de-stigmatise the disease, made Botswana the pin up poster in the fight against HIV\AIDS.
Botswana’s very success in fighting the HIV/AIDS stigma seems to be causing problems. HIV\AIDS has lost its shock value, youngsters are engaging in reckless sex and statistics of new infections are going through the roof.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 2017 Annual Report to the United States Congress states that, alongside Rwanda, Botswana is said to have “excel┬¡lent service coverage and marked decreases in deaths due to AIDS.” Indeed, Botswana’s AIDS mortality rate ÔÇô which peaked at the beginning of the century, has been steadily declining since 2003. That should be good news but is not because “epidemic control has not been achieved due to the rate of new infections.”
The report further revealed that unlike in Botswana, the epidemic is becoming controlled in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. “These countries with continued focus are approaching a point where HIV transmission would effectively be controlled among adults and babies, and they have reduced new HIV infections by 51ÔÇô76 percent since the start of PEPFAR.
That HIV has now lost its shock factor has not been lost on Godiraone Mbanga, tester at Tebelopele in Gaborone who told Sunday Standard lifestyle that, “youngsters are certainly getting relaxed about HIV. The epidemic has been around for a while now, and they see people living and looking well on ARVs. When they test positive, they tell me “I don’t feel or look sick” she says.
The concern about youngsters’ nonchalance towards HIV/AIDS was also shared by Remmogo Youth Organisation Executive Director Kagiso Morebodi who warned that, “The youth need to change their attitudes towards HIV/AIDS because it is still very much real. One of the major factors in the spread of the HIV virus is multiple concurrent partners, we the youth need to refrain from such.”
He pointed out that government has spent a lot of money on Anti-retroviral drugs “and it is now upon individuals or communities to ensure that they also play their part in the fight of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”
Thulaganyo Pogiso a nurse at Bokamoso Private Hospital says most of the youth believe they can never contract HIV. “Most are ignorant or choose to be ignorant enough to believe that they are untouchable and can’t get HIV until they actually get sick. A lot of youth still have multiple sex partners and have no regard for using protection.” She says a lot needs to be done with regards to educating the youth about the dangers of HIV but it all starts with an individual, one has to want to be responsible.
Botswana’s situation was predicted by Dr. Joep Lange, a prominent Dutch AIDS researcher who died in 2014 when the plane he was travelling in was shot down with a missile over Ukraine. Lange was a key figure in the development of the drug zidovudine (marketed under the brand name Retrovir) for AIDS therapy. An early AIDS researcher, Lange studied the Botswana situation very closely and ahead of the 2004 International AIDS Society (IAS) conference in Bangkok, Thailand, gave a keynote address at a workshop held in Amsterdam where he referenced the Botswana situation. He told his audience that anti-retrovirals were the only cost effective treatment for HIV and AIDS, especially that education alone didn’t work. With regard to the latter point, he gave Botswana an example where the epidemic had grown to be massive despite enormous efforts to raise awareness. Minutes of that meeting quote him as saying: “There is still widespread reluctance to use (male) condoms, which are still not as available as they need to be, and female condoms are not really an attractive alternative. Use of ARVs to prevent sexual transmission might be more likely to work than microbicides, and could incidentally be more women controlled, but still need to be proven effective and safe for widespread use.” At this time he was IAS president and Botswana had the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.