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World Aids Day: The Hands Up #HIVprevention

LT GEN DR IAN KHAMA

 

I am happy to be here with you this morning to mark this Day "World Aids Day." This day is meant to, take stock of challenges that humanity is facing as a result of the AIDS pandemic. It is also a day through which we commemorate our success story, as well as honour those we have lost due to this pandemic.

 

This year's theme, Hands up for #HIVprevention, has come at the right time when we as a country are reinvigorating our HIV prevention resolve to arrest the trajectory of the AIDS scourge. This theme encourages countries to assess their programmes as to how HIV prevention efforts can be better tailored towards the vulnerable groups of our society. It also resonates with our values at independence of self-help, particularly taking into consideration that exactly two months ago Batswana celebrated 50 years of independence.

 

The Hands Up #HIVprevention theme challenges individuals, groups, as well as institutions to commit to Fast-Track targets of ending AIDS by 2030. Now, more than ever before, the prospect of a world without HIV can be realised.

 

For the past three decades Botswana accelerated her efforts by introducing a strategic multi-sectoral response to HIV and AIDS which yielded positive results. Batswana and friends from different nations across the globe worked tirelessly to fight this pandemic through different fora and partnerships. We introduced various interventions that responded to the emergency situation we found ourselves in.

 

While Batswana endured pain and suffering, we steadfastly refused to falter and pulled together to conquer the virus. We pioneered the best nation-wide treatment programme in the world and triumphed in our quest to save babies from transmission of HIV. Currently we are speaking of a mother to child transmission rate of about 1.6 %, having dropped from a high of 40 % in 2001.

 

There is so much to be grateful for. New infections are estimated to have dropped. As a result of the AIDS epidemic demographic estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO), recorded life expectancy in Botswana to have fallen to 46 years in 2001.

 

This figure has now risen to 69 years in 2011. The remarkable improvement in life expectancy is attributable to the robust interventions and programmes that have been put in place to curb this problem.

 

Let us not treat these as just figures but a testimony of our collective performance and resolve towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in this particular case, that of  combating HIV and AIDS. These noble MDG achievements must provide a firm foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which come at the time when we have just launched our Vision 2036 Strategy Document as well as our 11th National Development Plan(NDP 11). We should, therefore, be inspired to address the remaining questions on how to end AIDS and equally deal with any remaining socio economic impact of the epidemic.

 

We have built strong institutions through various initiatives that engage our local communities and structures. Antiretroviral therapy is changing the HIV prevention landscape. Our people do not only live fulfilling lives but are using treatment to prevent HIV transmission to safeguard their health.

 

Launched in June this year, the Treat-All strategy provides opportunities for Batswana to be enrolled early on in treatment, as soon as one is diagnosed HIV positive, regardless of their CD4 count. Again Botswana is among the very first few countries to mount such a programme on a nation-wide scale. As the gateway to all other services, HIV testing and knowing one's status is a key feature of the Treat-All strategy. I therefore, urge all of you to take advantage of these programmes and services.

 

Botswana has invested heavily in various treatment and prevention strategies, as well as programmes in the quest to combat the HIV challenge. Optimizing the combination prevention approach through antiretroviral therapy, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, appropriate condom use, and voluntary medical male circumcision, is key in minimizing the impact of the epidemic. We are in a very good position to attaining the 90-90-90 global targets by 2020 set to fast track the ending of AIDS by 2030.

 

Whilst we appreciate these landmark innovations, we should also bear in mind that they come at a cost that we must sustain as a country. This is against a backdrop of rising health care expenditure; and projected declines in donor support and other sources of revenue. It is, thus, imperative that we explore various ways of ensuring that such worthy efforts are sustained irrespective of any economic or political landscape.

 

A key feature of Botswana's story is our ability to conduct research that provides the basis for policy formulation and programme planning. Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS) is among several of these research initiatives which is conducted every four years, nationally. Plans are underway to undertake the fifth AIDS impact survey, this time combined with tuberculosis (TB) prevalence survey. This is in recognition of the fact that currently HIV and TB are co-morbidities posing a serious challenge to our health care delivery system.

 

The purpose of the survey is to obtain data on TB prevalence for populations of 10 years and above; behavioural patterns of the population aged 10 through 64 years and the HIV prevalence and incidence rates among those aged 6 weeks through 64 years.

 

I am encouraged by the support that we continue to receive from our Development Partners, Civil Society and Private Sector in our AIDS response, as it is the case in many other areas of Botswana's social and economic development. We cannot afford to underestimate the importance of such partnerships, which laid a firm foundation for what we have achieved so far in the fight against the pandemic. Your effort and commitment will forever be appreciated by my government and Batswana in general.

 

We therefore still look to you, our friends in the international community and locally, to not desert us since the battle is yet to be won. Equally, I challenge my fellow Batswana to take personal responsibility.

 

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) remain another serious challenge. We are afflicted by conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and many others because of our lifestyle and behaviour. A healthy diet and physical exercise may well be all one needs to do to avoid many such ailments. Remember, it takes personal responsibility more than anything else to prevent most of these conditions.

 

This is one of the reasons why in our recent restructuring of Government Ministries, we have consciously added a Wellness function to the Ministry of Health, so that apart from treating diseases, the Ministry should promote wellness through prevention by healthy living which entails nutrition, physical fitness, mental health and self-care by citizens. By this addition, we hope to achieve and maintain the highest level of health and wellbeing which resonates so well with sustainable Goal No.3 of 'ensuring healthy lives and promotion of well-being for all'.

 

As I conclude, I call upon all Batswana to unite in fighting the HIV scourge. Treatment can never replace personal behaviour. Government can only do so much. Personal responsibility is the key. An HIV free generation is truly imminent. We all need each other, young and old alike to bring the epidemic under control and ultimately to an end. Thank you for your attention. Pula!!!!

 

KEY NOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED PRESIDENT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DR. SERETSE KHAMA IAN KHAMA TO MARK THE COMMEMORATION OF THE 2016 WORLD AIDS DAY, 01 DECEMBER 2016, GABORONE

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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