Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

28 August 2009

Botswana: HIV On the Rise in Phikwe

Selebi-Phikwe — National Aids Coordinating Agency (NACA) principal youth officer Mokagdi Mantswe says statistics continue to show that HIV/AIDS prevalence in Selebi-Phiwke is still on the increase despite the interventions in place.

Addressing councillors on Wednesday, Mantswe said during the initial Botswana Impact Aids Survey, Chobe District had the highest prevalence rate while Phikwe was second.

However, the mining town shot to the top during the second and third surveys. Currently 27 percent of the town residents are HIV positive. She added that this is a very huge number considering that it includes both the youth and the elderly. Statistics also indicate that women are the mostly affected at 31.2 percent and 21.4 percent for men.

Young girls, aged between 15-19 years, are five times affected compared to their male counterparts, which indicates that girls engage in sexual activities with elderly men. The virus is more prevalent in males aged between 45 and 49 in Phikwe.

Matswe regretted that the trend of HIV/AIDS prevalence puts the town in a bad light. By the end of March this year 65.4 percent of residents had tested and the remainder continue to be a threat. She said that the trend in Botswana in general has indicated that despite HIV programmes and interventions, there is something lacking.

Government spends vast sums of money on prevention initiatives and if no action is taken to change the general outlook towards the disease, then more money will continue to be poured into HIV/AIDS programmes affecting other developments, she added.

The NACA officer noted that through the ARV programmes 47, 000 deaths have been prevented.

She noted that there have been some debates on the issue of HIV/AIDS regarding the consent of age of testing from 21 to 16. Youth also are against the idea of bringing parents along when they go for testing. "Those in boarding schools want to be supplied with condoms at schools but the education policy on the other hand recommends otherwise. There is also no condom supply in prisons." Other issue that have sparked hot debates include whether testing should continue to be voluntary or be made compulsory, accommodation of those with different sexual orientation and whether HIV positive women should be allowed to continue falling pregnant.

During comments councillors thanked government for a holistic approach to the disease, but expressed concern over new infections. They asked if it can be possible to monitor those who have enrolled for ARV because most of them have a tendency of abandoning medication, leading to unnecessary loss of life.

They said the Phikwe situation is a challenge in that the town is a destination for male dominated workplaces and that in most cases efforts are concentrated on prevention without identifying the root cause.

They are of the view that those in boarding schools should be supplied with condoms because they continue to drop out of school, a sign that sexual activities are rife. They were strongly against the accommodation of people with different sexual orientation and that homosexuality should not be encouraged because they want to build a morally upright nation.

Councillor Benjamin Bagayi on the other hand said that HIV/AIDS intervention programmes are in place but expressed concern that they cannot change people's attitude. "Maybe our approaches to those programmes were not fully scrutinised from the start. Initially they were tailor-made to target women. Only recently they started to include men who are still dragging their feet. There was a vacuum there," he said. He called on NACA to step up its efforts so the mining town could have programmes geared at halting the high prevalence rate.

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