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11/19/03 - FIGHTING AIDS IN BOTSWANA - 2003-11-20

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – AIDS – is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or H-I-V. It is spread largely through sexual contact with those already infected. Intravenous drug use and unsafe medical practices, among other things, also contribute to the spread of AIDS. The disease has caused more than twenty-million deaths worldwide. In Africa, the most affected continent, nearly thirty-million people are living with H-I-V/AIDS, including three million under the age of fifteen.

Botswana, with some thirty-five percent of its adult population infected, has one of the highest rates of H-I-V/AIDS infection. Three-hundred-thousand people between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine are infected. Festus Mogae, Botswana’s president, was in Washington recently to attend a day-long conference at the U.S. Congress. He says that his country is teaching what are called the A-B-C’s – Abstain from sex until marriage, Be faithful to one’s spouse, and use a Condom when necessary. “That’s the message we have been preaching,” says President Mogae.

“Sometimes some people might say that is an old fashioned, tired message, but we don’t know of any alternative to that. Over and above that, of course, we are in a position to provide anti-retroviral therapy to citizens without charge. We also have prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs in our pre-natal clinics.”

President Mogae says that it is up to the people of Botswana to work together to fight AIDS. And, they will have the help of the United States. Since January 2001, as President George W. Bush has pointed out, the U.S. “has increased total spending to fight AIDS overseas nearly one-hundred percent.” In January 2003, President Bush announced a fifteen-billion-dollar Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief aimed at preventing seven-million new infections, treating two-million people living with H-I-V/AIDS, and caring for ten-million people infected with or affected by the disease, including orphans.

“When we see this kind of preventable suffering,” says President Bush, “when we see a plague leaving graves and orphans across a continent [Africa], we must act.”