A hospice in South Africa once commemorated World AIDS Day by hosting a memorial to mourn those who had lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.
After the introduction of life-saving antiretroviral treatment, this hospice chose instead to mark World AIDS Day with a celebration of life, because the people who were once dying in their care are now living and thriving members of society.
In this spirit, on World AIDS Day 2008, we join the people of Botswana in celebrating life.
For more than 25 years, the world community has witnessed the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. Until recently, many wondered whether prevention, treatment and care could ever successfully be provided in resource-limited settings where HIV was a death sentence. Just over five years ago, only 50,000 people living with HIV in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral treatment.
In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush launched the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS ÔÇô the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has already provided $18.8 billion in HIV/AIDS funding, and the U.S. Congress has authorized up to $48 billion for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years. America has followed through on its commitment by leading the world in its level of support for HIV/AIDS relief.
As one of the 15 focus countries supported by PEPFAR, Botswana received roughly $93 million in 2008 and about $300 million since 2004 to implement successful programs and launch new HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and capacity building activities nationwide. Partnerships with government, non-government and private sectors brought about many new and exciting programs, including HIV testing campaigns targeting men, universal coverage of ARV treatment, the rollout of early infant diagnosis, behavior change campaigns and a new emphasis on programs that prevent and treat tuberculosis, the leading cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS.
Botswana cannot conquer the HIV/AIDS pandemic through treatment and care alone. As has been noted throughout the history of public health; the best approach to treatment, care and all other challenges posed by HIV/AIDS is to prevent infection in the first place.
There are many success stories resulting from our partnerships in Botswana. One of these is the True Love Waits, a non-governmental, faith-based project supported by PEPFAR in the Ghanzi District, where more than 2000 young people have pledged to abstain from sex until after marriage. The program uses life skills training, movies and music to encourage in and out of school youth to wait for true love. True Love Waits focuses on abstinence as a means for young people to stay HIV free.
An HIV testing campaign involving the Botswana national football team has mobilized more than 6000 people in 60 villages to get tested for HIV. More than 60 percent of those testing have been men. The testing project, initially the idea of Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana, is funded by PEPFAR. It is supported by the Botswana Government, Tebelopele, the Botswana Football Association, BOTUSA and others.
The number of people accessing voluntary counseling and HIV testing services in Botswana has quadrupled in the last five years, thanks to efforts supported by PEPFAR. However, fewer clients visiting these centers in 2007 were first time testers and officials estimate only about half of the adult Botswana population has ever been tested. While this number is actually progressive, especially in regional comparisons, the need to increase access to counseling and testing remains a focus of the PEPFAR plan.
These achievements are made possible because of courageous individuals in countless communities in Botswana that are choosing life, saving the lives of their fellow countrymen and women and creating hope for a future free of HIV/AIDS. On this World AIDS Day, we celebrate the lives saved as a result of Botswana’s commitment to fight this deadly disease.
Inaccurate and irregular reporting of HIV/AIDS and other public health data has plagued many African countries and problems often stem from poor information sharing between district and national levels. With the help of PEPFAR, Botswana is working to improve information management through the placement of information managers in the district health teams and the district multisectoral AIDS committees and the development of electronic databases to capture and analyze data and produce reports for use at both the central and district levels.
Because of partnerships with nations around the globe, PEPFAR is on track to achieve its aggressive goals to support two million people through treatment, prevention of seven million new infections, and care for 10 million people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children. The U.S. Congress and President have established ambitious new goals for the next five years, and working in partnership with the people of many nations, we can achieve them.
Together, the people of Botswana and the American people have shown that strong partnerships enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Ambassador Stephen Nolan
United States Ambassador to Botswana.