Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report - Wed, 16 May 2001
'NewsHour' Examines Anti-HIV/AIDS Efforts in Botswana in Second of
Four-Part Series on AIDS in Africa
In the second installment of a four-part series on AIDS in Africa,
"NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reporter Elizabeth Farnsworth examines the
AIDS crisis in Botswana, where nearly 36% of sexually active adults
are HIV-positive and some estimate that the country's overall life
expectancy has been reduced by 20 to 40 years. Botswana is relatively
prosperous by sub-Saharan African standards, with a per capita annual
income of $3,700 compared to an average income of $300 in much of the
region. A flourishing diamond market and relative political stability
have kept the standard of living higher, but the good transportation
infrastructure and increased mobility of the population may contrib-
ute to the spread of HIV among the country's population of 1.6 mil-
lion, according to the report. Farnsworth details the country's ef-
forts to test pregnant women and reduce vertical transmission through
a pilot program offering expectant women the option of taking the
drug AZT. Dr. Tom Kenyon of the CDC estimates that nearly 24,000 HIV-
positive women deliver babies every year in Botswana. With a trans-
mission rate of 40%, an estimated 9,600 children are born with HIV
every year. Hospitals in seven of the country's 24 health districts
offer AZT as part of the two-year pilot program, and Dr. Loeto Maz-
hani, head of the program, would like to see it implemented nation-
wide by December. Currently, the drug is supplied at a reduced price
with assistance from its manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, and UNICEF.
However, many women refuse to be tested for the virus even though
they risk transmitting the virus to their child, with some citing the
fear of stigma as the reason. In an effort to protect more infants,
the government announced last month that it will give the drugs to
all pregnant women who want them, regardless of whether or not they
have been tested for HIV. Some women who do not have the virus may
take the drugs, but officials say that the risk is "outweighed by the
benefits." Although Botswana has taken steps to protect infants, lit-
tle has been done to protect their parents and other adults already
infected with HIV until now. The government "promised" in March to
provide antiretroviral medications to "all who need them" to help
citizens live longer lives. Without such efforts, President Festus
Mogae said, Botswanans "face no less than extinction" (Farnsworth,
"NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," PBS, 5/15).
c 2001 by National Journal Group Inc. and Kaiser Family Foundation.
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