ETHIOPIA: Botswana and Ethiopia to cooperate in fighting HIV/AIDS
© IRIN/Anthony Mitchell
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Festus Mogae.
ADDIS ABABA, 2 March (PLUSNEWS) - The leaders of two African countries severely hit by HIV/AIDS have agreed to cooperate in combating the pandemic. Botswanan President Festus Mogae, who on Monday started an official four-day visit to Ethiopia to boost bilateral relations and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said their two countries would share experiences in fighting the virus.
Botswana has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world - over 35 percent among its 1.6 million people. According to UNAIDS, the epidemic continues to gain ground and, while some successes have been made in a decade-long response, the country has been unable to keep pace.
In Ethiopia, according to UNAIDS, the epidemic has progressed to become the 16th-highest prevalence rate globally. An estimated 5,000 people are infected every week, with the result that nearly 3 million people infected and nearly a million children are orphaned.
"We are both afflicted by HIV/AIDS," Mogae told officials and journalists at the National Palace in the capital, Addis Ababa. "What we can do is exchange notes and experiences," he said, specifying that anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment and voluntary testing would be two key areas on which they would focus their joint efforts.
Botswana is already distributing ARVs to all its citizens in need of them, and is promoting routine testing at all its public health facilities.
"We know that Botswana has a considerable experience in fighting this pandemic," Meles said on the same occasion. "We are also engaged in an all-out struggle against the disease. We believe it is imperative to cooperate in this area and learn from one another’s experience."
Meles paid a glowing tribute to his counterpart, describing Botswana as a beacon worthy of emulation by other African countries. "Botswana is without doubt the country that has been best governed since independence in the continent," he said.
"Botswana is, economically, one of the countries that has grown very fast, not just in Africa but elsewhere in the world. So there is a lot that we in Ethiopia can learn from our brothers in Botswana. We share the same ideals and views and are like-minded, which is a key basis for our partnership."
The Ethiopian leader also hailed the new Africa task force established by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, of which Meles would be a member. Its mandate is to tackle the crisis in Africa in the context of HIV/AIDS, governance, debt relief and economic growth.
Botswana and Ethiopia are also examining ways of sharing agricultural technology, working more closely in the aviation sector and helping to strengthen the African Union (AU).
During his stay in Ethiopia, Mogae will tour historic sites, including Aksum and its centuries-old obelisks. He will join celebrations marking the Battle of Adwa – when in 1896 Italian troops were crushed by Ethiopians in the first-ever defeat of a colonial power by an African army. On Thursday, he will deliver a major policy speech at AU headquarters.