I would like to start by congratulating The Centre for Youth of Hope (CEYOHO) on completion of The CEYOHO Youth Centre. For those who may not be aware, I have been working with CEYOHO for many years. I take keen interest in matters pertaining to the Youth and I have kept abreast of the issues and noted the sturdy foundation of your efforts. I applaud you (CEYOHO) for the good results from your sustained interventions over time.
The Government of Botswana has designated March the Month of Youth Against AIDS (MYAA). During which, young people in collaboration with various partners, conduct HIV sensitisation, community mobilisation, outreach, and advocacy campaigns throughout the country.┬á
The theme for this year was adopted from the 2011-2015, World AIDS Day theme of “Getting to zero; which is “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths”. We all know that HIV and AIDS were and still are to some extent, stigmatised and it’s victims discriminated against. This led to the infected hiding and not seeking medical assistance which could have saved their lives.
I am reliably informed that CEYOHO runs an HIV prevention programme among young people infected and affected by HIV that has to date reached more than 2000 young people. Therefore, sustained partnerships with organisations such as CEYOHO are a step in the right direction to achieving “Zero discrimination” in Botswana; hence improved access to treatment care and support services.
Government through NACA has funded a lot of programmes geared towards educating Batswana about preventing risky behaviours that could lead to transmission of HIV and those that are providing care to the already infected. These programmes are most encouraging and indications are that the interventions are already bearing fruit.
It is important to note that initiatives by organisations such as CEYOHO significantly complement Government’s efforts in the fight against HIV. Young people both infected and affected by HIV play a critical role and are central to achieving this national vision.
HIV prevalence among youth is still very high. The Botswana AIDS Impact Survey of 2004 recorded an HIV prevalence of 6.5% among 15-19 year olds. This figure dropped to 3.7% in 2008 and rose marginally to 4.7% in 2013. This is telling us that transmission is happening albeit not at an alarming rate. Even more revealing and disheartening is that HIV prevalence among the 20-24 year olds was more than two fold in 2013, at 10.3%.
We must take cognisance of the fact that there are barriers along the way as we move towards achieving our common goal. Major challenges to this achievement include: alcohol and substance abuse, stigma, intergenerational sex and other forms of risky behaviour, to name but a few. These pose major challenges for the Youth now, but as you grow older and become more independent in your thinking and actions, you should develop good decision-making skills and will be better equipped to avoid taking part in such behaviour.
I assure you, Youth, Government will continue to provide the necessary tools to help you implement various programs aimed at addressing challenges faced by young people. I applaud your efforts and what CEYOHO is doing for young people in Botswana. It makes me happy that CEYOHO has distinctively continued to place young people not only as service recipients but as leading implementors in all its activities.
10. I wish to reiterate that the nation looks up-to young people as change agents. You have the energy that can direct as well as propel the process to achieving our goal of an AIDS free Botswana. Without your active participation, the fight against HIV would continue to be a major challenge to us. I urge you to be exemplary by not engaging in activities that can promote contracting and spreading of HIV.
I would like to extend my appeal to parents, teachers, Baruti and leaders at all levels: it is our responsibility too, to ensure that we collectively mentor young people and mould them into responsible adults.
I call on all of us to make firm commitments to sustain the achievements of the past decades and encourage you to do more, do better and reach further for eventual victory that is certain ÔÇô an HIV free generation.
*These remarks were made by Minister Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi