Feature story

Botswana enters new phase of AIDS response

20 June 2019

Botswana has reaffirmed its commitment to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 with the recent launch of two new five-year strategies.

The third National Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS and the Multi-sectoral Strategy for the Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases will until 2023 guide the government’s strategic response to improve health outcomes for the country’s population.

Botswana has made significant progress in its response to the HIV epidemic in recent years. Of the estimated 380 000 people living with HIV in 2017, 320 000 have access to treatment to keep them well.

Botswana was the first country in eastern and southern Africa to provide free and universal treatment to people living with HIV. It has adopted the Option B+ strategy which offers women living with HIV lifelong treatment and the “test and treat” strategy which provides immediate treatment to people who test positive for the virus.    

During a two-day visit to the country from 13 to 14 June, UNAIDS Executive Director a.i., Gunilla Carlsson, attended the presidential launch of the new health strategies. 

“As a country, we need to renew our focus and re-prioritize our agenda on the HIV response to attain the 2020 targets and the vision for ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Furthermore, non-communicable diseases have become a new epidemic that threatens our health as a nation as well as our national development agenda,” said President Mokgweetsi Masisi during the launch.

During her visit, Ms Carlsson also named the First Lady of Botswana, Ms Neo Masisi, as Special Ambassador for the Empowerment and Engagement of Young People in Botswana. In this role, Ms Masisi will focus on advocating for young people’s needs, the promotion and protection of their rights, and their leadership roles of agents as change, with an emphasis on young women and girls.

“I’d like to thank UNAIDS for the confidence placed in me by conferring upon me this role. It will help me to leverage my role as First Lady to end the AIDS epidemic among young people and add value to the work I am already doing,” said Ms Masisi.

In a meeting between Ms Carlsson and members of civil society in Botswana, participants raised their concerns about complacency, especially among younger people, adherence to treatment and HIV prevention.

On the back of the landmark decision of the High Court of Botswana to decriminalize same-sex relations, members of the LGBT community expressed hope, but also warned that more work needed to be done to address stigma and discrimination, especially in communities and in health care settings.

“The main challenge that Botswana is facing in its AIDS response is complacency. If the country can overcome this challenge, then it will show the whole world that it can be done,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i.

During her visit, Ms Carlsson also visited Ramotswa, a village outside of Gaborone, to witness how communities are coming together to accelerate the AIDS response. She also visited Tebelopele clinic in Gaborone, which provides integrated HIV and health services to a wide range of people, including female sex workers, men who have sex with men and adolescent girls and young women.