Thursday, July 18, 2024

HIV/AIDS still presents a real menace

On Monday, December 1, the whole world will commemorate the World AIDS Day. It is a day set aside to look back at what has been achieved in overcoming the HIV/AIDS scourge over the preceding twelve months and also to look at what challenges lie ahead over the next twelve.

Over the years HIV/AIDS almost laid to waste Botswana’s economy as it ravaged the young and economically active. There were often times when it appeared like we were headed for an apocalypse. On account of a strong political leadership we averted what annihilation literally faced us as a nation. And for that we have to be eternally grateful. While the HIV/AIDS march was to a significant degree slowed down, the fact of the matter is that it was never really put down let alone defeated. Recent official announcements by NACA (National Aids Coordinating Agency) indicate that new infections are still a part of our existence.

More disheartening is the fact that people as young as teenagers are the ones leading when it comes to these new infections. Looked at broadly, this has put paid our fight that was premised on a future without new infections. HIV/AIDS can only be broken if the chain of new infections is broken. For as long as there are still new infections happening, the victory will remain as distant as it ever was. And there are many other challenges. Owing to our structural weaknesses of our country’s economy which have grown ever more pronounced, there are yet are challenges.

These have a lot to do with government’s ability to continue paying the exorbitantly high costs of treatment. Coupled with that are the ever dipping levels of political will in the fight against HIV/AIDS which are at best tenuous and at worst out right non committal. When you put the international donor fatigue on top then it becomes immediately apparent that we still a big fight in our hands. In fact the fight never really left us, the fact of the matter is that it might just have grown fiercer, more complex and much more protracted. A few weeks ago it was announced that former President Festus Mogae was leaving the post of NACA chair.

He has been replaced not by incumbent president but by a vice president. Mogae had occupied that position since the first day that NACA was established during his presidency. Taking its chairmanship was a symbolic gesture meant to send home the message of just how seriously government at the time viewed the fight against HIV/AIDS. When he retired he was allowed to carry on as NACA chair which was in a way a vote of confidence on the benefits that country stood to benefit from his institutional memory but also from the vast network of connections he had forged over the years.

The flipside to it all was that it also brought home the painful reality that the new regime was relegating the fight against to lower priority levels. We readily acknowledge that even after Mogae, government has continued to pay for HIV/AIDS therapy for thousands of Batswana. While that is welcome, it is a reality that we have to live with that while money is indeed important in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there are other equally important factors like political will and political leadership that are just as important.

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