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Botswana's Miss HIV Fights Stigma, Ignorance Surrounding Disease

October 28, 2004

Botswana's Miss HIV Stigma Free, Kgalalelo Ntsepe, has said she is doing her best during her reign -- which will end in several months -- to challenge misconceptions and stigma associated with people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, AFP/Star reports. After winning the pageant in September 2003, Ntsepe -- who found out she is HIV-positive in 2001 -- traveled around the country to teach the "importance of testing" and "how to live positively with HIV," according to the AFP/Star. "I think I helped a lot of people," Ntsepe said, adding she demonstrated that "even if you are HIV-positive, you can do things like others." However, Ntsepe has faced accusations that she is "a fake," showing that stigma "still permeate[s] the AIDS issue in Botswana," according to AFP/Star. Although Botswana in 2002 launched a national program to provide antiretroviral medications to HIV-positive residents, AIDS advocates say that the government "is realizing that drugs and testing centers do not provide all of the answers," AFP/Star reports (AFP/Star, 10/26). With the help of a $100 million, five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and drug maker Merck, Botswana has established 17 treatment centers, with 15 additional facilities planned. HIV prevalence in Botswana is 37.4% -- the second highest in the world after Swaziland -- and life expectancy in the nation has dropped to age 37. A World Health Organization report released on Monday said the provision of antiretroviral therapy in Botswana is progressing steadily and resulting in fewer AIDS-related deaths among residents living with the disease (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/26). "The message is not penetrating -- there is no breakthrough," Helen Ditsebe-Mhone, who was one of the first people in the country to disclose her HIV-positive status, said. The international community is closely watching Botswana's progress in the fight against AIDS, as the country's efforts could become a model for other sub-Saharan African countries that are highly affected by the pandemic, according to AFP/Star (AFP/Star, 10/26).

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