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International News

Botswana President Says He Had No Choice but to Give His People AIDS Medicine

April 10, 2002

Botswana started distributing medicine to patients with AIDS because it has one of the highest infection rates in the world and its skilled work force is dying off, President Festus Mogae said Tuesday. This diamond-rich nation is the first country in Africa to commit to a widespread program of providing AIDS medicine through its public health system. The government began the program earlier this year. About 19 percent, or 323,000, of Botswana's 1.7 million people are infected with HIV. Some 38 percent of its adults are infected -- the highest rate in the world. "We are the most hideously affected country in the world and we had to do something about it," Mogae said.

Currently, 250 infected people are receiving medicine from a hospital in the capital, Gaborone, while 800 others are on a waiting list because there are not enough doctors to examine patients and prescribe the medicine. The UN said last year that AIDS had reduced life expectancy in Botswana from what should have been 68 years to around 44 years. "We are short of doctors. We are short of nurses. We are short of pharmacists. We are short of health technicians," Mogae said.

Nonetheless, the government plans to open three more sites to provide the often costly, but potentially lifesaving, medicine nationwide by July. By the end of the year, about 19,000 people should receive the medicine, Health Minister Joy Phumaphi said. "We do not believe it is fair to offer people prevention strategies without offering them treatment and care," she said. Within five years, the government expects to spend $200 million on AIDS medicine, Phumaphi said. "The economy stands more to suffer from not having the program than from having it," she said.

Back to other CDC news for April 10, 2002

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
04.09.02; Ravi Nessman

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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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