Saturday, December 6, 2008

Speech by H.E. the former President of the Republic of Botswana, Mr. Festus G. Mogae, at a `Business Combating HIV and AIDS` Conference

source: Republic of Botswana (6/12/08): TAUTONA TIMES no 40 of 2008
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President “Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline”


Director of Ceremonies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

1. It is an honour and privilege for me to be here with you today on World AIDS Day, a day when people around the world come together to renew their commitment to fight HIV and AIDS. First of December every year is a day when we wear our red ribbons to remind ourselves that AIDS has not gone away, but there is need to re-double our efforts.

2. I am grateful to my hosts - the International Council of Swedish Industry and the Swedish Industrial Metalworkers’ Union - for inviting me to this conference held under their Swedish Workplace HIV/AIDS Programme. I must state from the outset that I am delighted that your programme aims at contributing to the establishment and support of HIV and AIDS programmes at the workplace by engaging Swedish companies and their partners in Sub-Saharan Africa.

3. I also note with great satisfaction that you currently cooperate with 50 workplaces in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to encourage the management and employees to work together to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, and assist those needing care, treatment and support.

4. It is befitting that the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is LEADERSHIP and the sub-theme is Behaviour Change is my key responsibility to stop HIV and AIDS. There is no better time than now to encourage leaders at all levels to take action and lead from the front in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.

5. You might be aware of the devastating effects the AIDS epidemic is having on the Sub-Saharan region. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected and infected in the world and its region of Southern African or the Southern African Development Community is the epicentre of the epidemic. Therefore, to us, World AIDS Day is something that is taken to heart and is on our minds every single day of the year.

6. Southern Africa remains disproportionately affected by the epidemic. In our nations are two thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide, and 90% of all infected children.
Although in some countries HIV prevalence rates have stabilised and started to decline, the levels are still too high. For example, 24% of adults in Botswana, 23% in Lesotho, 26% in Swaziland and 18% in South Africa are living with the virus.

7. However, we should acknowledge that in the 20 years since the commemoration of the first World AIDS Day in 1988, some achievement in the fight against HIV and AIDS have been made. Today, hope exists. Out of the 3 million people now on antiretroviral therapy worldwide, one million started therapy for the first time last year, and they did so in Africa. Today, in my country, Botswana, over 100,000 people are receiving antiretroviral therapy representing almost 95% of those in need.

8. Only 15 years ago no one in any country knew how to protect a baby from being infected with HIV if the mother was positive. Today in Botswana transmission of HIV to babies has reduced from 40% to 4% - a level comparable to that in developed countries, with much lower HIV prevalence.

9. I am proud to say that my country has recorded such significant gains. However, a lot remains to be done as new infections continue to occur. While we recognise the progress made in distribution of AIDS treatment, we must also acknowledge that HIV prevention remains a challenge. Despite significant efforts by African countries and growing financial flows from development partners, the response to the epidemic has failed to stop the occurrence of new infections and risky behaviour.

10. There were 1.9 million new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2007. One may ask why have prevention efforts lagged behind? This has been attributed to several social factors such as number of multiple concurrent sexual partnerships, intergenerational sex, high mobility, limited prevalence of male circumcision and inconsistent condom use. Perhaps more than anything, insufficient ownership of the response has delayed meaningful results.

Greatest leadership challenge

11. AIDS represents the greatest leadership challenge of our time. The United Nations General Assembly, in its June 2006 Declaration on HIV/AIDS, emphasised that legal, regulatory and political barriers in member countries continue to block peoples’ access to effective prevention, care and treatment programmes.

12. This brings me to the crux of my presentation today and the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day – LEADERSHIP. Our presidents, parliamentarians, health ministers, religious, social and traditional leaders have great influence on public opinion about HIV and AIDS.

13. As decision-makers, they can encourage informed debate on issues related to HIV and AIDS. As lawmakers, they can design, adopt and oversee the implementation of legislation that protects human rights and advance effective HIV prevention. As guardians, they can ensure that appropriate funding is steered towards evidence-based interventions, and that government commitments on HIV and AIDS are respected.

14. During the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City early this year, a new initiative aimed at influencing the involvement of the top leadership in African countries was launched. I have the honour to be leading this initiative. Our aim is to advocate for new and innovative approaches to prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative is called the Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation.

15. The Champions are an impressive group of former African presidents and some eminent personalities that include former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. Others are Archbishop emeritus and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, South African Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Edwin Cameron and Professor Miriam Were, chair of the Kenyan National AIDS Control Council and Ethiopian supermodel and WHO goodwill ambassador Liya Tafese Kebede.

16. During the launch in Mexico, Justice Cameron made a profound statement to the media that: “Stronger, more visionary and outspoken leadership must come from the continent most affected by this epidemic.” His statement summed up what the Champions are all about.

17. Through collective experience, integrity and broad-based knowledge, the Champions hope to inspire African leaders to intensify evidence-informed responses to the epidemic to tackle HIV/AIDS in their communities and countries.

18. With a focus on proven HIV prevention practices, the Champions will speak freely and independently about the issues that need to be discussed, both publicly and behind the scenes. We will advocate for better policies, laws and practices that facilitate, rather than hinder effective responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We will reinforce best practices in the region and highlight progress being made in countries visited.

19. The Champions will primarily target high-level leadership within and among the countries of Sub-Sahara Africa, including business leaders and the workers. Business is an essential partner in the response to HIV and AIDS. Involvement of the private sector is crucial to the success of any country's efforts against the epidemic. Employers have the responsibility to protect their most valuable input, the workers, from HIV infection.

20. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through the implementation of policies and programmes that seek to eliminate unfair discrimination in the workplace, promote prevention and innovative ways of managing HIV in the workplace. Eliminating stigma will encourage workers to voluntarily test to know their status and make prevention easier to deal with.

21. Let me cite an example of exemplary business leadership in the response to HIV and AIDS in Botswana. Botswana’s main diamond mining company, Debswana, which is also one of the largest employers in Botswana, has taken a deliberate decision to assist its employees. The company administers antiretroviral therapy to its employees free of charge.

22. They have expanded the programme and now employees’ spouses and children under 21years also have access to free testing and treatment. The company has been able to demonstrate a drop in AIDS-related deaths among its employees since beginning of the programme.

23. I must say I am also impressed and encouraged by the cooperation that exists between the International Council of Swedish Industry and the Swedish Industrial Metalworkers’ Union.

24. This is a demonstration of business leadership working with the workers for the benefit of both the company and the workers. Such best practices should be highlighted and extended to more companies in Botswana and other countries. Leadership means taking a socially-responsible stand in protecting your community and communities where you are conducting business.

25. Leadership against HIV and AIDS must continue and grow from strength to strength. We must, individually and collectively, continue to speak up openly about HIV and AIDS. We must tackle both the direct risk behaviours, and the indirect causes that lie deep-rooted in societies. We must not blame or judge, but support and encourage each other, so that together we can achieve our goal of an AIDS-Free Generation.

26. When I received my Mo Ibrahim award in Egypt last month, I pledged to continue to contribute to the fight against HIV and AIDS. I repeat that pledge before you today. I thank you.

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