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Botswana has made significant social and economic progress since it gained independence in 1966. Routine immunization coverage rates are high, and 95 per cent of the population has access to clean drinking water. But HIV/AIDS has had a devastating effect, and responding to the epidemic is Botswana’s most urgent priority. UNICEF is working closely with the government to expand testing, treatment and prevention efforts, with a special focus on supporting affected children.
Issues facing children in Botswana
- HIV/AIDS affects nearly a quarter of Botswana’s adult population. Prevalence is also extremely high among women of childbearing age, raising the risk that mothers will transmit the virus to their babies.
- Some 14,000 children under age fifteen are HIV-positive, but very few are receiving antiretroviral therapy.
- The HIV/AIDS epidemic has left 120,000 orphans in its wake.
- About 24 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.
- Only 16 per cent of children have access to preschool. No standards exist for providing quality early childhood development services.
- Although education is not compulsory, primary school enrolment is high, at about 82 per cent. The next challenge is improving learning outcomes and providing a gender-sensitive environment that encourages girls to stay in school. The recent introduction of secondary school fees may hinder many poor children from continuing their education.
- Sexual abuse and rape increase the vulnerability of girls and women to HIV/AIDS.
- In 2006, flooding from heavy rains combined with poor sanitation and hygiene to produce an epidemic of diarrhoea. In a three-month period, almost 24,000 cases and 486 deaths were registered, most of them children under age five.
Activities and results for children
- With UNICEF support, Botswana has successfully implemented a nationwide programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. Some 92 per cent of pregnant women are tested for the virus, and increasing numbers of HIV-positive mothers receive antiretroviral treatment.
- UNICEF is working with an array of partners to provide improved services for orphans, including direct support to community-based organizations that care for 4,700 orphans and vulnerable children.
- A recent nationwide campaign delivered measles vaccinations and vitamin A supplements to 180,000 children under age five. Measles immunization rates now stand at 90 per cent.
- UNICEF provided 12 preschools with staff training and a package of educational materials and play equipment, creating a new model for early childhood development services. UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Education to develop a standardized curriculum that will prepare young children for primary school.
- The ‘Telling the Story’ project has given children a forum to speak out about their school experiences, shedding light on the causes of school drop-out.