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Children’s march helps launch HIV/AIDS campaign in Botswana

© UNICEF Botswana/2006/Garebamono
Children bring traffic to a standstill in Gaborone, Botswana to launch the country’s UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign.

By Kutloano Leshomo

GABORONE, Botswana, 15 May 2006 – More than 300 children marched through Botswana’s capital city on Friday to launch their country’s UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign. Dressed in matching yellow campaign t-shirts, they brought morning traffic to a standstill while chanting songs about HIV/AIDS prevention and calling attention to issues that directly affect their future.

Another 200 people gathered for a colourful ceremony at Old Naledi Freedom Square led by Minister of Health Sheila Tlou. She urged all partners involved in the AIDS campaign to join hands with the government and help change policy on behalf of children affected by the pandemic.

“Between 1991 and 2001, we witnessed an infant mortality rate that increased by 17 per cent and an under-five mortality rate that escalated by 21 per cent,” explained Minister Tlou. “While a lot has and is being done for HIV-infected and affected children, a lot still remains to be done. And to this end, we must ensure that we leave no stone unturned in our escalation of the response.”

Testimony on ‘the four Ps’

The launch ceremony featured testimony from four people who are living with HIV or have benefited from AIDS prevention and treatment programmes. Each focused on one of the four main programme areas, known as ‘the four Ps’ (for prevention of mother-to-child transmission, paediatric treatment, prevention and protection, care and support).

© UNICEF Botswana/2006/Garebamono
Speaking at the campaign launch, Malebogo Malaolo tells how her baby’s life was saved by a programme on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Peer counselor Malebogo Malaolo of the Centre for Youth of Hope, which serves young people living with AIDS, spoke about how she tested positive for HIV while pregnant and gave birth prematurely at seven months. Ms. Malaolo lauded the treatment programme that helped prevent HIV transmission to her baby, but she decried as “shameful” the reluctance of male partners to submit to confidential HIV testing.

Another speaker, Ingrid Kealotswe, offered moving and tearful testimony recounting the difficulty of bringing up a sick child. Both Ms. Kealotswe and her seven-year-old son are living with HIV.

Kefilwe Ramohube, 19, talked about enabling young people to avoid HIV by taking charge of their own lives. She urged organizations working with youth to disseminate information on prevention more widely.

And Amogelang Mosetlho, 17, touched on the need for protection of children affected by HIV/AIDS, describing how her father disappeared when her mother died. Amogelang said she now lives with her 21-year-old sister and receives food rations from the government, as well as psycho-social counseling. She expressed thanks for this assistance and urged the government to reach out to other vulnerable children.

Campaign needed ‘yesterday’

The UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign in Botswana has received broad support from the media, with television and radio stations playing a major role in delivering critical messages on young people and HIV/AIDS to the public. Dedicated programming, included four weekly specials shown on Botswana Television, has focused public attention on ‘the four Ps’.

The attention is badly needed: HIV prevalence among young people under the age of 15 stands at 33 per cent in Botswana, while an estimated 120,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS. Some 52,000 orphans and vulnerable children are registered by the government and receive support under its food-basket programme.

Minister Tlou noted the success of Botswana’s efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, stating that 83 per cent of pregnant women who tested positive had benefited from the programme by the end of 2005. But she acknowledged that gaps still need to be addressed, particularly concerning the involvement of male partners.

The global campaign on children and AIDS is a call to action that “was needed yesterday,” said one member of the national Reference Group formed to oversee the Botswana launch. Composed of partners from civil society, development organizations and government, the Reference Group has cited the campaign as an unprecedented opportunity to unite for children and step up the battle against HIV/AIDS.



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