Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keynote Address by H.E. President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama at the World AIDS Day Commemoration, Kasane

source: Republic of Botswana (2/12/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 28 of 2009
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
“Democracy, Development, Dignity, Discipline and Delivery”


[Salutations]… Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning here in Kasane, as we join the international community in commemorating World AIDS Day, a day recognized and observed by millions of people around the globe to raise public awareness about HIV and AIDS, as well as mobilising support for people living with HIV and AIDS.

2 This year’s commemoration is historic for one reason. For the first time the global AIDS community affirms that the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all is an essential element in the global response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, in particular access to services; hence the theme Universal Access and Human Rights.

3 ‘Human Rights’ as a value is not alien to us as Batswana. It is in fact inherent in our culture, at the core of our value system, through our national value of ‘Botho’. It is in this regard that this theme is simply challenging us to respond to HIV and AIDS epidemic with Botho, that is, without prejudice and discrimination and without consciously introducing stigma.

4. Over the past decade, the critical need for strengthening human rights to effectively respond to the epidemic and deal with its effects has become increasingly clear. Protecting human rights and promoting public health are mutually reinforcing.

5. We acknowledge that achieving universal access is necessary to protect the economic and social development of our country. To this end, in the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS of 2006, United Nations member states, Botswana included, expressed their commitment to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. We also recognize that making true progress on this front requires increased commitment and capacity to tackle key barriers to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support, which includes promotion of human rights to provide a conducive environment.

6. In order to achieve our targets we need to strengthen our call to respect and value the dignity of all persons, irrespective of their HIV status. Through this theme, we, as a country, challenge all discriminatory laws, policies and practices that stand in the way of access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

7. For us to work towards achieving this goal, the Government of Botswana has rolled out various programmes across the country such as the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission PMTCT), Anti Retroviral Therapy(ARV) and others. The PMTCT programme has been applauded internationally as one of the most successful HIV prevention programmes, as it continues to do well. Through this programme over 90% of pregnant mothers who are infected with HIV are able to access the PMTCT services, way beyond the 80% universal target of 2010.

8. This programme has enabled 90 newborn babies out of every 100 to be born free of HIV infection. What an opportunity for an HIV free generation! We also note that all the mothers who are found HIV positive and have enrolled in this programme are either given prophylactic treatment or the full antiretroviral treatment. The saving of the mother’s life as a deliberate component of the programme has been considered by many as one of the major human rights breakthroughs in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

9. Despite some of the successes we have registered, there is persistent evidence that women still suffer disproportionably from HIV and AIDS.

10. The 2008 Botswana AIDS Impact Survey reports that females have a relatively higher prevalence of 20.4% compared to males at 14.2%. In fact, young women, aged 15 – 24 years in Botswana are twice as likely to be infected with HIV as their male counterparts. Our women, our mothers, our daughters must be empowered to fend for themselves with dignity.

11. As of August this year, a total of 133,032 people were on antiretroviral treatment, at no cost to the individual. This means that just over 82% of the people in need of treatment in 2009 were being treated, free of charge. People have not just been put on treatment but, perhaps more importantly, a lot of care has been extended to them, as may be evidenced by the survival rate of those on treatment. We have experienced only about 10% cumulative mortality. While we cannot glorify HIV and AIDS, we can celebrate our success.

12. We have been able to achieve this because our strategy to roll-out ARV services to the rural and more remote areas through clinics and other strategically located satellites across the country is effective. My Government continues to be committed, even within the current budgetary constraints caused by the global economic downturn, to save as many lives as possible. Each person has the right to life and we are committed to this ideal.

13. We continue to strengthen care and support for orphans and vulnerable children, as well as those who are terminally ill with free food baskets, support with educational necessities and psychosocial counselling services. Almost all our 47,600 plus registered orphans and all the registered community home based care clients in Botswana access these services, despite the enormous cost. We want these, some of whom may be living wit HIV and AIDS to also lead dignified lives.

14 . While we have experienced many successes as I have already alluded to, we still have serious challenges in our response.

15. This challenge is about the need to prevent new HIV infections. We must all understand and appreciate that without prevention we will lose this war. We will not sustain our national response. I therefore urge all Batswana to pay attention to our national call; “O Icheke, Break the Chain of sexual partners and HIV infection”. It is calling on all Batswana to introspect and relook at issues that put them at risk of HIV infection and take the decision to adopt and maintain safe behaviours as well as endeavour to create an enabling environment for sustained behaviour change.

16. I wish to state that HIV and AIDS should not pander to the whims of expediency but that it should demand of us a deep introspection for certain prejudices we hold. It calls for the respect of each individual’s human rights and for us to collectively rid our society of violence, stigma, discrimination and substance abuse, such as alcohol, which are the remaining barriers to achieving universal access.

17. As I conclude, allow me to acknowledge with great appreciation, the assistance we have had over time with all our partners. These include all our donors and development partners, the international community, and our civil society including the private sector. Your continued support in the face of harsh economic conditions worldwide has been noted with appreciation. You have indeed made selfless sacrifices. Your presence here today alone speaks volumes.

18. Last but not least, I thank Rre Mogae, the Former President for continuing to lead the national response through his chairmanship of the National AIDS Council. We continue to value your services.

19 It is now my pleasure to declare this commemoration officially open. I thank you.

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