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Amid AIDS Crisis, Botswana Mobilizes

June 22, 2001

Festus Mogae is president of Botswana, where 36.8 percent of adults between 15 and 49 are living with HIV. "If the infection rate is at 36 percent, don't you think that is frightening by any standard?"he asked Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. As world leaders gather at the UN next week to discuss the AIDS crisis, some of the strongest voices will be from Botswana, where the disease threatens the survival of the nation in its present form.

Prior to the epidemic, Botswana, a nation about the size of Texas, was a political and economic success. Its diamond mines -- three of the world's largest -- allowed it to amass $6 billion in foreign reserves. Then came AIDS, reversing advances made in both life expectancy and infant mortality.

But now the nation is fighting back. Botswana has launched what it hopes will be the first nationwide HIV/AIDS treatment program in sub-Saharan Africa. Myron "Max" Essex, chair of the Harvard AIDS Institute, will leave with other scientists on Tuesday to spend seven months in the country, with hopes of beginning antiretroviral treatment for patients by year's end. Working under a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Merck, Essex and colleagues will supervise mother-infant interventions, oversee treatment of adults with HIV/AIDS, start AIDS vaccine trials, and expand a laboratory. Debswana Diamond, the nation's largest company, also has begun treating employees with HIV.

Mogae, however, worries that the programs will not start quickly enough or reach enough people. Only about 30,000 of the nation's estimated 300,000 HIV-positive persons know their status, since without treatment there was no incentive to be tested. "We are determined, but our national mood is sad, very sad," he said.

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Adapted from:
Boston Globe
06.21.01; John Donnelly


  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 
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