Address By His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi President Of The Republic Of Botswana On The Occasion Of The World Aids Day Commemoration Tuesday 1st December 2020 Mahalapye.
It is an honour for me to once again join you and the rest of the world in commemorating the thirty- second (32nd) World AIDS Day. The commemoration of this day is an opportunity for us to take stock of progress that we have made so far in our response to the HIV/AIDS scourge. It is also a day on which we take a moment to remember our fellow-citizens living with this epidemic, who deserve our love and compassion, as well as those who have lost their precious lives to the virus.
Bagaetsho, we are now all familiar with the reasons for commemorating many of our activities in a low-key tone throughout this year. The commemoration of World AIDS Day is no exception as COVID-19 and its disruptive impact on our social lives and our economy still remains.
Let me commend many of you for following the precautionary measures imposed by Government, which has so far ushered in considerable milestones in controlling the spread and transmission of COVID-19. While we hope for a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved soon, it is imperative for us to continue observing the related health protocols without fail.
4.You will agree with me that the COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on our health systems and our economy with potential to undermine the gains that we have made in fighting HIV/AIDS over the years.
We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV including women and girls in accessing life-saving health care. The crisis has also widened the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalized groups to HIV. Health experts have also informed us that people living with HIV/AIDS are amongst the most vulnerable to COVID-19, making it essential for us to ramp up our efforts to protect those living with HIV/AIDS from exposure to the Coronavirus.
Let me therefore take this opportunity to assure you fellow citizens, that this novel pandemic will not derail my Government from its spirited fight against
HIV/AIDS. We will continue to sustain our efforts in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and in this context, protect the solid record of achievements we have made over the years and ensure that we will “Leave No-One Behind” in our HIV response strategy.
Bagaetsho, this year’s theme, “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”, comes during uncertain times and we are reminded that there is no country that can tackle the myriad of challenges facing humanity in isolation. This calls for the coming together of our communities, faith leaders, civil society and donors in fighting this disease.
Our collective efforts as governments in partnership with the private sector, civil society and development partners is therefore key in addressing the challenges that we continue to face in a more effective and efficient manner.
• Strengthening our health systems and ensuring the protection of our healthcare workers;
• Ensuring access to life-saving medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.
• Respect for human rights, particularly those of women and girls. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionately affected by lockdown measures, and lockdowns have resulted in an increase of violence against women in household settings.
To this end, Government remains committed to the improvement of the wellbeing of Batswana, especially, the youth and women, to eliminate their economic vulnerability that predisposes them to social ills such as Gender Based Violence. We are also in the process of passing the Sex Offenders Bill in the current sitting of Parliament to deter potential perpetrators from such inhuman acts.
Distinguished, ladies and gentlemen, since the first case of HIV in Botswana was diagnosed in Botswana in 1985, significant progress has been made over the last 35 years to contain the spread of the disease as well as mitigate its negative impact on our economy and our social well-being.
Although Botswana still remains
To date, three hundred and eighty four thousand, one hundred and ten (384,110) people in Botswana are estimated to be living with HIV. However, HIV/AIDS related deaths have declined by 28 percent between the years 2010 and 2019.
Government has made tremendous efforts in tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. As such the country has surpassed the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets in 2019 and has now set new targets to 95-95-95. Currently, 92 percent of people living with HIV know their status, while 89 percent of them are on treatment with 96 percent are being virally suppressed.
Botswana is also on the path towards eliminating mother to child transmission which stands at 1.9 percent compared to 2.5 percent in 2018. In December 2019, the Government of Botswana in collaboration with PEPFAR adopted a policy on providing free HIV/AIDS services to non-citizens in Botswana. To date there are over two thousand, nine hundred and sixty five (2,965) non-citizens accessing Antiretroviral Treatment services for free.
In order to further reduce new HIV infections, Government has introduced Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to HIV Negative individuals who are 18 years and above and are at the risk of acquiring the infection. The PrEP is already being rolled out in phases to prioritised beneficiaries such as Adolescents Girls and Young Women (AGYW).
Ladies and Gentlemen, at this juncture, I would like to express my profound gratitude to our development partners for their continued support to our country’s response to HIV and AIDS. In particular, I am grateful for, and proud of, the longstanding partnership between Botswana and the United States of America which has immensely benefited our country’s fight against HIV and AIDS.
Since 2003, the United States government has generously invested over US$1 billion in Botswana’s HIV response strategy. To this day, the United States remains the largest bilateral funder for HIV programmes in this country. This support has benefited numerous key programmes within Botswana’s multi-sectoral HIV response including HIV prevention, testing and treatment, creating the University of Botswana’s School of Allied Health Sciences, as well as the strengthening of the National Health Laboratory.
Similarly, I acknowledge the contribution made by Global Fund to our HIV response over the years. Since 2016, Global Fund has cumulatively granted Botswana approximately fifty million United States Dollar ($50 million) for various HIV prgrammes including procurement of ARVs. I am happy that Global Fund has made a further commitment to continue to support Botswana up to 2024. The United Nations Family in Botswana also continues to give generous support to the country especially in the form of technical assistance and guidance in the fight against HIV and AIDS which I greatly appreciate.
Moja morago ke kgosi, I can’t conclude the thanks without thanking my very dear former President, Rre Festus Gontebanye Mogae for the very stellar work in championing the fight against HIV/AIDS and his true commitment to the fight against HIV/ AIDS in Botswana. His spirited fight against HIV/ AIDS through multilateral partnerships can never go unrecognized. Rre Mogae we can never thank you enough. A pula e go never.
Bagaetsho, in conclusion I wish to urge all of you to play an active role in controlling the spread of the disease by paying particular attention to people most at risk of HIV infection, including sex workers, the youth and people living with disability.
I also remind you to continue adhering to the COVID 19 health protocols of maintaining social distancing, wearing masks properly in public and washing hands frequently.
I thank you.
A PULA E NE!