UNICEF Executive Director visits Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana, 05 March 2013: UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and the President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Finnish Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, were recently in Botswana to attend the global thematic consultation on health in the post-2015 development agenda. During their visit, they took time to engage with young people in Botswana.
They visited the Bokamoso Community Junior Secondary School where the Government of Botswana’s National AIDS Coordinating Agency and UNICEF Botswana are working with adolescents on a multi-media HIV prevention campaign called Wise Up.
Botswana has the world’s second highest HIV prevalence rate of around 25 per cent among adults aged 15 to 49 years and a rate of 8.5 percent among young people. The Wise Up campaign was formulated as part of the prevention efforts to address misconceptions and lack of knowledge about HIV among adolescents in Botswana.
Through the campaign, adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24 years are empowered with information about HIV transmission as well as myths and misconceptions about the virus through a combination of radio, cellphone text messages and Facebook discussions.
The students and volunteers demonstrated how they share information, mobilise and interact with their peers on Facebook. “This is a smart way to share HIV information among young people. It can make a huge difference, when the power of the internet is combined with smart young minds,” he said about the Wise Up campaign, which has already reached almost 4000 young people on Facebook and 7000 on its cellphone platform. He added that no adult can communicate with young people the way another young person can.
During the visit, he encouraged the volunteers to share some of their experiences and challenges. Volunteers explained how they are working to address the misconceptions and myths that fuel HIV, as they go around the country mobilising their peers to join in the discussions on Facebook and via the cellphone platform.
The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mokgweetsi Masisi, pledged the government’s commitment to rolling out the campaign saying, “We will see how far we can go, but this campaign will help save Botswana.”
The campaign, which will run until 2015, aims to contribute towards the achievement of the Vision 2016 goal of zero new infections. It hopes to reach 10 000 registered users on Facebook and 15000 on the cellphone platform by the end of 2014, with a reach beyond Botswana.
Ambassador Viinanen and Mr Lake also visited the Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, which provides free pediatric HIV care, treatment and support to children and families throughout the country.
At the centre, they met members of the Teen Club, which seeks to assist HIV-positive adolescents by helping them share experiences, acquire life skills through peer mentorship and fight stigma.
The Teen Club members shared some of their experiences noting that the club has helped them deal with their everyday challenges. Mr Lake praised the young people for overcoming the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. He also encouraged the male members to help others to tackle issues around HIV saying, “In Botswana, HIV is higher among girls than boys. But even though men are much of the problem, women are more often the ones who are part of the solution.”