The tension in the room was heavy as experts from different departments in the health fraternity shared their space with civil society, media and other stakeholders to seek recourse in finding new ways of preventing new infections of HIV.
A necessary community outreach seminar was made possible through the collaboration of the American Embassy and INK Centre for Investigative Journalism through their New Directions programme primarily to increase awareness of the continued response to HIV in Botswana sharing developments and best practices. The theme this year was closing the health gaps in adolescent girls and young women.
When officially opening this seminar, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Botswana, Early Miller stated that: “The United States is proud to support this nation’s “Treat All” policy launched in June by His Excellency President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. The U.S. has committed more than 20 million dollars in additional funds to support this enlightened bold step toward an AIDS-free generation.”
The deliberations at the two-day seminar were an intoxicating cocktail of facts and figures depicting on how Gaborone and the greater city were performing in this battle against HIV and AIDS. They also went beyond the conventional parameters of medication, prevention of mother to child etc and covered contributing factors affecting sexual reproductive health like safe male circumcision, gender-based violence, family planning and key population (men having sex with men, female sex workers, transgender and those who inject themselves with drugs).
The densely populated Gaborone is home to almost half of all Botswana citizens and according to the BBSS (Behavioral and Biological Surveillance Survey) study of 2012, has the highest population of female sex workers.
The 2013 BIAS (Botswana Aids Impact Survey) study indicates that approximately 70 percent of Batswana aged between 10 and 64 years old have been tested for HIV which apparently is the highest testing rate in the world.
The adolescent girls and young women are a most vulnerable demography towards issues relating to HIV and Aids in Botswana primarily because of our socialisation. Whilst most girls and women have heard the emancipation gospel and have been saved from the wrath enshrined by the patriarchal society we live in there are those who remain victims of heinous crimes against humanity such as defilement, gender based violence, intimate partner killings, marital rape and molestation.
Champions of the rights of the girl child and the boy child alike spoke of their programmes and how they were contributing towards their protection against HIV and Aids. They have a lot on their plate as they are dealing with a more vocal and fearless youth that live in a global village and have mainstream and social media influences to contend with.
Dorothy Okatch from Young Love explained how they were fighting the sugar daddy pandemic trying the best ways possible to show young school-going girls that dating older men was not cool and they should desist from doing it.
Fighting from another corner is the Botswana Student Network with their #BOLOTOMUSTFALL campaign in which they are advocating for the availability of condoms in schools.
Having been alive and conscious of what was happening in Botswana between the late 90s and the early 2000s it would have been very hard to miss the scores of weekly funerals held in every village, town and settlement most of them emanating from complications which arised from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections.
A couple of decades later Botswana boasts one of the most evidence based success stories regarding the fight against HIV and AIDS through stakeholder and government interventions in ensuring that those affected and infected get the best possible care to lead a normal fulfilled life.