Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

Botswana's AIDS effort focus on specific groups

by John Carr

In 1985, Botswana’s first case of HIV/AIDS was reported at a time when the disease was mainly affecting two groups: homosexuals in Western society and populations in Africa. Since then, the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Botswana has grown to the second worst in the world.

Botswana’s first approach to combating the disease, beginning in 1987, was blood screening. The screening was a first step to preventing HIV/AIDS transfer during blood transfusions. The Medium Term Plan was undertaken in 1989 by Botswana's government to focus on information outreach to educate the public. Unfortunately, these initial efforts were slow and received small attention. In 1993, the government developed the Botswana National Policy on AIDS, which outlined a plan of action to combat HIV/AIDS.

Since 1987, Botswana has undertaken several public education measures. As in other African nations, the government has bombarded the public with information on HIV. The country is filled with billboards, pamphlets, and other education materials to fight HIV/AIDS ignorance. Public education alone, however, has failed to curb the infection rates. Botswana is not unique in this failure. One thing experts agree on is that education must be culture specific. Botswana, like most African countries, is rich in cultural diversity. Accordingly, Botswana is trying to focus its programs on specific groups within the country. For example, there are several governmental and non-governmental organizations focusing on the education and awareness of young people.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Ministry of Education of Botswana, and the Youth Health Organization have focused on a multidimensional program to bring HIV/AIDS education into the schools through various programs and teacher education.

Efforts to demystify the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS have been a primary focus. Throughout Africa, cultures have adopted unsafe practices to deal with HIV: for example, some cultures believe sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure the disease. The only way to curb these myths is through bringing the facts to light. One program is the one supported by the Youth Health Organization “Talk Back.” All primary and secondary schools in Botswana have been equipped with televisions and necessary equipment to air “Talk Back” two time per week where young people can discuss HIV/AIDS.

Specific education on sex and sexuality has been provided extensively throughout Botswana. It is not uncommon to see booths at town halls, festivals, bars, malls, and billboards promoting safe sexual intercourse. Because of cost and ease of production, condoms have been an integral part of safer sex. Since 1993, the Population Services International working in Botswana has provided free condoms to the public, and, since then, millions of condoms have been distributed throughout the country. In 2002, the first free female condom was made available to the public. The Botswana government and other nongovernmental organizations continue to promote safer sex through widespread condom use and sex education.

Certain populations spread HIV/AIDS and are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than others. Any mobile population is at risk for both of these possibilities. Migrant workers, who are very common in Botswana, are readily exposed to HIV/AIDS. The Botswana government and other organizations have been working with the well-known Corridors of Hope project. This project, though primarily working in southern Africa, has been targeting migrant workers. This program aids in safer sex education, HIV/AIDS treatment methods and condom use.

Still, despite all these efforts, the HIV/AIDS numbers in Botswana have continued to rise. The government and health care professionals know something had to change.