Botswanan president calls on nation to ‘change behaviour’

11th November 2003

Botswanan President Festus Mogae yesterday urged his southern African nation to commit itself to a change of behavior as part of plans to fight HIV/Aids in the most heavily infected nation in the world.

During a two-hour state of the nation address, Mogae said the Botswanan government would continue the fight against the disease, and warned that social stigma continues to be the greatest barrier.

"We have spoken of the HIV/Aids pandemic as a war that needs to be won. Yet in this war we remain our worst enemy," said the president.

"It is we alone, who through behaviour change, must achieve our victory".

Botswana's 1,5-million population has the world's highest HIV infection rate, with nearly 40% of sexually active people infected with the disease.

About 110 000 people are thought to be in dire need of anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy in the southern African country.

"The stigma surrounding the disease remains one of the greatest barriers to the implementation of various care and prevention strategies," said Mogae.

But the landlocked southern African country has done more than most to break down the stigma surrounding HIV/Aids, even hosting a beauty pageant for women who are HIV positive in September.

Mogae leaves for Washington today to attend a conference titled "Botswana's strategy to combat Aids: What lessons for Africa and Bush's Emergency Plan for Aid Relief".

The conference was expected to borrow from Botswana's experience, a country considered to be a model in the fight against the disease.

The country is rolling out ARV therapy and a programme to combat mother-to-child-transmission.

Last month, Mogae announced that testing centres will be opened in all government facilities next year. – Sapa-AFP.