Botswana challenges prominent people on HIV/Aids

The norm in the country is that the few influential people who have been disclosing their status have mainly been HIV negative, thereby missing the whole point of trying to drive home the message of the disease.

Having realised that mistake, health personnel in Botswana are now challenging those well-known people who are living with the disease to go public.

A health expert and local trainer with Maisha Yetu project – an initiative of International Women Media organisation to enhance the quality and consistency of reporting on HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa – Beata Kasale, said using well-known people who are HIV negative could reinforce the misconception that only a certain cluster of society are infected with HIV.

Kasale made the observation during the launch of best practices book on reporting HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Although health reporting continues to be a challenge in Botswana she asserted that the project has enhanced skills of most journalists.

“We brought resource people and journalists under one roof and they exchanged ideas on how to improve coverage of HIV/Aids issues,” she said.

Head of programmes at Radio Botswana, Monica Mphusu, indicated that the project has harmonised the relations between the government and private Press.

“We share information as we have a common goal – to reach out to people. We now compete in a healthy way,” she said.

To some media houses, the project has been a wake up call.

“The project has helped us realise that we have been chasing a wrong story,” said the Mmegi editor, Gideon Nkala.

He added that most media houses focused on political issues, scandals and corruption. “This is amazing because at some point we had the highest prevalence rate and were rated the least corrupt country, yet we followed stories of corruption at the expense of health issues. But we have now realised that health stories are equally important and we owe it to our people,” he said.

A South African singer, who is also UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Yvonne Chaka Chaka agreed that journalists are on a day-to-day basis confronted with the difficulty of deciding whose story to tell and when to tell it.

However she decried that a lot of health stories remained untold.

“The media has a role to play in highlighting these issues as well as ensuring that government and civil societies use their limited resources to effectively fight the pandemic,” she said.

Chaka Chaka challenged stakeholders to work hard to bring down suffering caused by HIV/Aids, malaria and TB.

Meanwhile, a University of California study shows there is wide support for Botswana’s policy of routine HIV testing, from which people can “opt out”.

The government introduced the policy in 2004 after it found that reluctance to be tested was a major cause of slow take-up of free antiretroviral treatment.

The cross-sectional study of 1 268 people at the end of 2004 found that 81 percent of respondents were either “extremely” or “very much” in favour of routine testing, while 60 percent thought the policy could help reduce stigma and 55 percent said it could reduce violence against women.

However, the survey also revealed some contradictory opinions: 43 percent of participants believed routine testing might actually discourage people from seeking medical care from doctors.

Although concluding that Botswana’s policy was well supported, the authors cautioned that “efforts to scale up HIV testing must also be accompanied by appropriate monitoring of testing practices to ensure that they are implemented in accordance with international guidelines on human rights and HIV/Aids.”

In another development, miners of the rare tanzanite gemstones at Mererani mine in Tanzania’s Simanjiro District say they are being overlooked by HIV/Aids education campaigns.

According to the local Arusha Times newspaper, anti-Aids organisations were being urged to extend these services to thousands of miners, who are at a higher than usual risk of HIV infection.

One miner, Lawrence Loti, commented that after a rewarding dig most workers consumed alcohol to excess and engaged in risky sexual behaviour. “Here, when a miner gets a piece of tanzanite, he becomes bewildered, since most struggle for more than three months without getting anything.”

Citing official figures, Tanzanian Prime Minister Edward Lowassa recently said Mererani had an HIV prevalence rate of 16,4 percent, compared to the estimated national average of seven percent of all adults.

July 2006
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