SELEBI-PHIKWE: Botswana is one of a few countries where the HIV epidemic has passed the tipping point Voice of America’s Selebi-Phikwe Branch Manager Charles Shepard has said.
That, he said meant for every new person on treatment, there was less than one person newly infected.
Shepard who was speaking during the Selebi-Phikwe AIDS Day commemorations on Friday said this was made possible in part by his country’s partnership with Botswana through US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has been in place for the last 10 years. He applauded Botswana for its policy of providing free Antiretroviral treatment to its citizens, saying it had become a model for Africa and the world.
“New HIV infections have dropped by 71 percent since 2001 and the PMTCT transmission rate has dropped from a peak of around 40 percent to nearly 2 percent as compared to most western countries. There has also been a slow but steady increase in the number of men accessing Safe Male Circumcision as an HIV prevention method,” he added.
Shepard said over the past decade the US government had committed more than P6 billion to Botswana’s response to HIV. He noted that to achieve an AIDS free generation PEPFAR worked closely with a variety of stakeholders including the government of Botswana, multisectoral organisations, civil society, people living with and affected by HIV, the faith community as well as the private Sector.
He said Botswana’s goal of “Zero New Infections, Zero AIDS related deaths and Zero stigma and discrimination by 2016’ was possible, but needed every individual to become involved.
“Zero is a continuous line that protects and contains what is inside and keeps away whatever is outside the line. We are the answer to the prevention and spread of HIV,” he said
Shepard noted that HIV prevalence rate had been high in Selebi-Phikwe District since reaching a high of 27.5 percent in 2013. In contrast, he said Kgalagadi District recorded a reduction from 19.1 percent in 2008 to 11.1 percent in 2013. It was therefore necessary to find and deal with what caused Selebi-Phikwe District to fail in reducing the prevalence rate like other districts in the country. He emphasised the need to reduce high numbers of teenage pregnancies, high rate of sexually transmitted infections as well as the number of ARV defaulters.
Meanwhile members of the community who attended the event called on legislators to formulate laws that will prosecute pastors who force patients to withdraw from HIV treatment claiming they will miraculously get healed. They said such patients ended up dying.
They regretted that there were still patients who threw away their ARVs while some took the treatment with alcohol.