Botswana: Zero New HIV Infections by 2016

13/1/2011 - Botswana's National AIDS Coordinating Agency hopes for zero new HIV infections by the year 2016, emphasizing the role and importance of young people in Botswana's society.

Speaking in Botswana’s capital city of Gabarone, the Botswana National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) urged the Batswana people to refrain from risky behaviours that spread HIV/AIDS.

The theme of today’s NACA meeting was “Universal Access and Human Rights,” recognizing the impact of HIV/AIDS on human welfare and equality. While it is often categorized as a health sector issue, HIV-positive people suffer substantial stigma that may prevent them from really participating in their communities or even accessing employment. Likewise, children may be shunned by their peers and even denied access too schooling and health facilities in extreme cases. Such reactions deny children the childhoods to which they should be entitled.

Mompati Merafhe, Vice Chairperson of the NACA, addressed the meeting’s attendees saying that “There is no shadow of doubt that the youth are this country’s future and it is only when our programmes and initiatives positively impact on them that we can be sure to attain zero new infections by 2016.”

Children comprise roughly 44% of Botswana’s population, making them important stakeholders in the national affairs, though they may not always be enfranchised.

Over the past decades, improvements to child health have been made nation-wide. Immunization programs, for instance, have expanded rapidly to a 90% coverage rate. Greater attention to infant malnutrition among health care providers has helped to decrease prevalence by 5%, so that acute infant malnutrition has a prevalence rate of only 1%. Today, the rights and well-being of children infected with HIV/AIDS remains a key priority sector under Botswana’s National Plan of Action.

The country has greatly improved the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT). Since November 2001, all public health facilities offer PMTCT services. In Botswana, statistics show that by providing women and newborn children with PMTCT anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), the risk of transmission can be reduced from 30-40% to 3-4%.

Such services are absolutely vital to bringing down the 17.6% national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, as just over 33% of pregnant women are HIV-positive. The gains made so far have been instrumental to Botswana’s declining infant mortality rate.

Still, too many children are being infected during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, despite the accessibility of ARVs, which are provided by the government free of charge.

Also, the high rate of HIV/AIDS among the population means that there are a very large number of AIDS orphans in the country. Of the 120,000 orphaned children living in Botswana, 16% have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Children without parents are most vulnerable to child trafficking and abduction, and often have the least access to basic services.

Stakeholders and policy-makers must continue to realize that HIV/AIDS is a cross-cutting issue affecting a variety of demographics and sectors. That said, citizens must also take responsibility for their own actions to improve their own lives and the lives of their children.