‘NewsHour’ Examines Anti-HIV/AIDS Efforts in Botswana in Second of Four-Part Series on AIDS in Africa
In the second installment of a four-part series on AIDS in Africa, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reporter Elizabeth Farnsworth examines the AIDS crisis in Botswana, where nearly 36% of sexually active adults are HIV-positive and some estimate that the country's overall life expectancy has been reduced by 20 to 40 years. Botswana is relatively prosperous by sub-Saharan African standards, with a per capita annual income of $3,700 compared to an average income of $300 in much of the region. A flourishing diamond market and relative political stability have kept the standard of living higher, but the good transportation infrastructure and increased mobility of the population may contribute to the spread of HIV among the country's population of 1.6 million, according to the report. Farnsworth details the country's efforts to test pregnant women and reduce vertical transmission through a pilot program offering expectant women the option of taking the drug AZT. Dr. Tom Kenyon of the CDC estimates that nearly 24,000 HIV-positive women deliver babies every year in Botswana. With a transmission rate of 40%, an estimated 9,600 children are born with HIV every year. Hospitals in seven of the country's 24 health districts offer AZT as part of the two-year pilot program, and Dr. Loeto Mazhani, head of the program, would like to see it implemented nationwide by December. Currently, the drug is supplied at a reduced price with assistance from its manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, and UNICEF. However, many women refuse to be tested for the virus even though they risk transmitting the virus to their child, with some citing the fear of stigma as the reason. In an effort to protect more infants, the government announced last month that it will give the drugs to all pregnant women who want them, regardless of whether or not they have been tested for HIV. Some women who do not have the virus may take the drugs, but officials say that the risk is "outweighed by the benefits." Although Botswana has taken steps to protect infants, little has been done to protect their parents and other adults already infected with HIV until now. The government "promised" in March to provide antiretroviral medications to "all who need them" to help citizens live longer lives. Without such efforts, President Festus Mogae said, Botswanans "face no less than extinction" (Farnsworth, "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," PBS, 5/15). To read the full transcript of the report, click here. To listen to the segment in RealAudio, click here. Note: You must have RealPlayer to listen to this report.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.