Saturday, November 10, 2007

Botswana: Try Circumcision, But Test for HIV - Mogae

Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)
8 November 2007

Thato Chwaane

President Festus Mogae says he is open-minded on HIV prevention strategies in curbing new infections.

Mogae was speaking at a workshop for journalists on Tuesday, aimed at enhancing quality reporting on HIV/AIDS.

He said while some donors advocated for circumcision as a preventative measure, everyone should test for HIV before going through the procedure.

However, he said government was still strategising about circumcision and cautioned that the practice should not mean that anyone is exempt from the virus. He said if there was a correlation between prevention and circumcision then the government is willing to try it.

"There have been many debates on circumcision. Let's try it; we have nothing to lose except foreskins," he said.

"I am open minded. If it takes being of the same religion then let's try it," he said to the amusement of the audience.

He appealed to journalists to join hands in propagating the message of abstinence and advocating for routine testing to be more 'routine.'

Mogae said that he thought that more senior journalists would attend the meeting. "If they think that this is for junior journalists, then they are grossly mistaken," he said.

Mogae said that AIDS is not someone else's problem. "See how many of you have died.

We have to worry about it and have a reason to want to live," he said. He said the press had a role in fighting HIV.

He dismissed an article in a local publication that said the prevalence rate went down in Uganda after people were told to abstain and added that it went down due to the fact that people died.

Mogae said he was once present when over 400 students graduated posthumously at Makerere University. He said he saw people die in Uganda and there was nothing they could do.

Mogae said that there has been awareness and relative success in treatment and care but that Botswana was not out of the woods yet. He said the youth have a chance of an AIDS free generation and that people should know their status.

He said that when the UN used statistics from the sentinel surveillance rate of 37 percent as the prevalence rate in Botswana, they did not argue.

"Any percentage is bad, whether 17.1 percent or the 37 percent of expectant mothers," he said.

He also added that the procurement of ARVs is a national programme and it was not tied to any individual. He was answering one of the journalists who wanted to know what would happen after he left office next year.

Botswana would eventually turn to the use of generic drugs which are cheaper, Mogae warned.

He said that would be done at the end of the current contracts with suppliers. The imminent change would reduce costs, he anticipated.

Mogae allayed fears that in the 'worst case scenario' when donors would pull out, the programmes would still continue as 86 percent of the country's expenditure on ARV's originates in Botswana.

He said he would continue being engaged in issues relating to AIDS, with organisations and friends abroad, even as a former president.

The two-day workshop was titled "The role and challenges of leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS".