Botswana boasts one of the highest rates of adults with HIV in the world at a solid 25 percent. That total is just shy of the HIV-affected population in Swaziland, NPR reports. Those numbers may sound particularly dire and threatening, and they are, but the government in Botswana has also taken a stand against an increase in the number of new cases each year.
The government began a program in the early 2000s that addressed the high rate of infections and illnesses head on by offering everyone affected by HIV and AIDS with the necessary medication and treatment. Over the last 10 years, this program and the necessary medications have reached 95 percent of the people affected by HIV.
All of the medications are offered free of charge to anyone who has HIV and have been spread generously throughout the nation. The former president of this south central African nation, Festus Mogae, has been essential to implementing HIV prevention programs over the years.
NPR discusses the phenomenon of strong leadership on this issue:
In the early days of Mogae’s administration, roughly 40 percent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers also ended up infected with the virus.
Toomey, at the CDC, says the government set out to stop this.
“They aggressively addressed that through the treatment of mothers, treatment of babies, and brought the rates of mother-to-child transmission down to rates that we see in the industrialized world,” she says. “Stunning achievement.”
Now only four percent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers are born with the virus. In Botswana in 2009, more than 5,000 people died of AIDS. There were probably around 93,000 orphans living in Botswana who were orphaned due to the epidemic, according to UNAIDS.
Mogae has also pushed against decriminalizing homosexuality and sex work in the country. He remains an advocate for gay men and legalizing their relationships in Botswana in 2011, stating “These are citizens.” He has also insisted that people in prison need access to condoms in order to prevent more cases of the virus.
The most important aspect of this entire promotion of HIV treatment, available for the whole population, has been a decrease in the wide range of people who were direly ill. Many people in small villages were unable to work or contribute to the community because they were so unwell. With medications available for anyone with the virus, more citizens are able to function on a day-to-day basis.
UNAIDS has been one of many organizations that have worked with the Botswana government to ensure that the epidemic remains limited. NPR points out that this small nation does have a limited population, and a wealth of diamond deposits, both aspects of the country that give the government resources to check the spread of HIV.
Photo of child orphaned by AIDS: jimcintosh