Botswana Losing Skilled Workers for HIV/AIDS Programs to Nongovernmental Groups, President Mogae Says
Botswana's public health system lacks a sufficient number of trained workers to staff its HIV/AIDS programs, largely because they are attracted to nongovernmental organizations that can afford to pay higher salaries, Botswanan President Festus Mogae said on Wednesday during a Washington, D.C., conference on the country's AIDS initiatives, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Wolfe, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/12). The day-long Capitol Hill conference, which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, brought together government, private sector and nongovernmental representatives to explore lessons learned from Botswana's experience in fighting AIDS. Mogae said that international groups, foreign governments and not-for-profit groups that have come to the country to help with its AIDS crisis have hired workers away from government programs by offering better pay and benefits. Mogae said that the a problem has been compounded by doctors and nurses leaving the country for more lucrative positions abroad. Mogae said that the "brain drain" was the biggest obstacle to the rapid expansion of the country's treatment programs. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in introducing Mogae said, "We can't underestimate the need for knowledgeable people." Botswana has tried to counter the loss of staff by recruiting health professionals from India, Cuba and other African countries, but Mogae said, "We'll be lucky if we get them" (Dugger, New York Times, 11/13). The Bush administration recently approved a request to restore the Peace Corps program in the country, which could provide some help. Randall Tobias, coordinator of government activities to combat HIV/AIDS globally, said that there is room for better cooperation in easing the country's staffing problems (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/12).
Antiretroviral Drug Program
The shortage of trained workers and the "slower-than-expected" pace of construction on clinics, laboratories and drug warehouses have delayed the expansion of the country's AIDS programs, including a national program to distribute antiretroviral drugs to the 110,000 people who need them. Since the program began almost two years ago, only about 10,000 people have started taking antiretroviral drugs, far fewer than Mogae expected, according to the Times (New York Times, 11/13). Botswana is among the 12 African countries targeted by President Bush's five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative, and despite being one of the most economically stable African countries, Botswana has the highest HIV prevalence in the world -- nearly 38% of its 1.8 million people are HIV-positive (Preston, U.N. Wire, 11/12). Mogae said he aims to achieve an AIDS-free Botswana by 2016 (Agence France-Presse, 11/12).
PRI's "The World" on Wednesday reported on the conference. The segment includes comments from Mogae; Frist; Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.); and Helene Gayle, director of HIV, tuberculosis and reproductive health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Lawrence, "The World," PRI, 11/12). The full segment is available online in Windows Media.
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the conference, titled "Botswana's Strategy to Combat HIV/AIDS: Lessons for Africa and President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," is available online.
Additional information on AIDS in Botswana is available online through kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.