Botswana/USA partnership (BOTUSA) acting director, Dr Michael Thigpen, has called for a need to reinforce prevention of HIV/Aids instead of focusing more on treatment.
“While treatment is of utmost importance as it helps to keep those infected alive, focusing on treatment alone is not sustainable, therefore there is a need to emphasize prevention if any progress is to be made in the fight against HIV/Aids,” said Thigpen at a workshop hosted by BOTUSA in Francistown last week.
The two-day seminar was hosted for journalists and District Multisectoral Aids Committee (DMSAC) members in Francistown under the theme “new directions in HIV/Aids”.
Addressing participants, Thigpen said that the seminar was the fifth of its nature in a series of outreach programs organized by the US government and the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA).
“The Workshop targets journalists and DMSAC members as they are the ones best suited to take the information to the grass roots level,” he said.
He also added that the seminar was motivated by the concern that 30 Batswana contract HIV on a daily basis while over 10 000 people get infected every year. However, Thigpen expressed gratification at the fact that more than 100 000 HIV positive people are currently on the life saving antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).
“We should feel proud that in Botswana more than 90% of those in need of ARV’s are currently receiving treatment,” he said.
He went on to relay a message from the American government expressing pleasure at the fact that their continued assistance to the government of Botswana, through HIV/Aids interventions programs like BOTUSA, Peace Corps, the Department of Defense, USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), are bearing fruit.
Thigpen pointed out that the US government support for Botswana’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS program has grown from $24million (P144 million) in 2004 to more than $90million (P608 million) this fiscal year, specifically through PEPFAR. This assistance translates to over $300 million by the end of 2009.
In 2003, then US President George Bush pledged $15 billion, stretched over five years, for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care targeted at nations with the highest prevalence rates in the world, including Botswana. In July 2008, President Bush signed a law that reauthorized PEPFAR support through to 2013, with a dramatical increase of US$50 billion in financial commitment from the US over the next five years.
“This level of assistance is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history,” said Thigpen.
He emphasized that support for other partners has been well received and effective because it is embedded into Botswana’s own comprehensive response which is summarized in the country’s national strategic framework for HIV/AIDS. However, despite the progress made in Botswana and elsewhere, HIV infections are increasing. To that end, said Thigpen, there is a dire need to address and reinforce prevention.
“Under the current theme, new directions in HIV prevention, focus is more on the response to the epidemic in Botswana and Southern Africa today,” said Dr Thigpen.