Africa's AIDS Victims Turn to Botswana
People with HIV/AIDS from neighboring countries are homing in on Bostwana's hospitals and clinics asking to receive free drug treatment to stave off the ravages of the virus, medical practitioners said recently. Botswana is the only southern African country to offer universal access to AIDS drugs through its public health system. Most countries in the region have HIV/AIDS infection rates above 20 percent of their population and consider the antiretroviral drugs too expensive and too difficult to administer.
Staff members at Francistown's general hospital said patients desperate for the life-prolonging drugs had traveled from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nimibia and South Africa in the hope of treatment. But Botswana has a strict policy of treating only its nationals with AIDS drugs, which it supplies through a partnership with Merck pharmaceuticals and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Foreign nationals are turned away from its clinics.
Within Botswana, about 2,000 people have so far enrolled in antiretroviral treatment in the country's four drug dispensing center. Those numbers are expected to double by the end of the year. However, medical staff in Botswana's largest hospital, the Princess Marina Hospital in the capital city Gaborone, fears HIV/AIDS sufferers expecting treatment may overwhelm the facilities.
Botswana's 1.7 million population has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world. An estimated 38.5 percent of sexually active adults are HIV-positive. The Gaborone-based African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership believes Zimbabwe has even higher infection rates than Botswana. It fears that the economic and political crisis, which threatens the mass migration of hungry people over the next four months, is spreading the epidemic. President Festus Mogae insists that his country does not have the human or financial resources to treat its own population, let alone individuals from another country.