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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | BOTSWANA: PlusNews Interview with Dipuo Bogatsu - Commonwealth Ambassador of Positive Living | Care Treatment, PWA ASOs | Interview
Sunday 25 December 2005
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BOTSWANA: PlusNews Interview with Dipuo Bogatsu - Commonwealth Ambassador of Positive Living

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Interview with Dipuo Bogatsu

GABARONE, 9 November (PLUSNEWS) - PlusNews Interview with Dipuo Bogatsu - Commonwealth Ambassador of Positive Living

In 1992, Dipuo Bogatsu was diagnosed as being HIV positive. In a country where more than 35 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS, few people have publicly disclosed their status and many Batswana believe that HIV/AIDS is a foreign disease which does not exist in Botswana or is only found in urban areas. Bogatsu went public with her HIV status in 1993 and since then, she has attended many conferences locally and internationally sharing her experiences and encouraging others that there is hope for people living with HIV/AIDS. She spoke to PlusNews about living positively with HIV/AIDS in Botswana.

QUESTION: What did you do after discovering you were positive?

ANSWER: It started when I developed herpes in 1992 and I went for some tests but I was too scared to go back for the results. When I finally found out, I didn't tell anybody. Then a couple of months later I heard about a group of women called "Emang Basadi" (Women, Stand Up), which mobilised women and sex workers and educated them on the dangers of HIV/AIDS. I joined them and we went around nightclubs distributing condoms and leaflets about HIV/AIDS.

Then I worked with Population Services International (PSI) as a condom distributor and told my director that I was positive, she was quite supportive and then things moved quickly from there and I was invited to attend the first Commonwealth Conference for Young People living with HIV/AIDS in England. I was interviewed by the BBC in London and then when I got back home, I anonymously disclosed that I was HIV positive on radio.

QUESTION: What made you decide to go public after this?

ANSWER: Well after David Ngele (the first person in the country to disclose his HIV status) I thought if he can do it so can I! But really I thought it would be better for me because I was told that I would have access to health care, support and information. And I wasn't really scared of being in the public eye because I had been a dancer and a model when I was younger. I was around 28 and I thought that I should create awareness about AIDS because many Batswana still did not take it seriously.

QUESTION: So did you receive the support and access to health care that you were expecting?

ANSWER: Well my family hasn't been supportive at all. I live in a house with no running water and electricity, I lost my job and find it difficult to support my kids. But because of all the conferences that I attend, my family think I'm lying and say I'm just using AIDS as an excuse. If only they knew that I don't get paid for all these trips. For financial support, I write a column on living positively with HIV/AIDS in the Voice newspaper, and they pay me 400 Pula (US $68) a month. Health care, I don't want to take antiretrovirals, even though the government offered to give them to me free.

QUESTION: Why do you refuse to take antiretrovirals?

ANSWER: I've got enough stress, I'm trying to take care of my children and find a way of keeping this house. I have a healthy diet, I grow my own vegetables and I just take herbs to relieve my fatigue or soothe me when I'm stressed. But sometimes I get frustrated and I drink or smoke, but that's not good because it just makes all your symptoms worse.

QUESTION: What about support groups and networks for people living with HIV/AIDS?

ANSWER: I sometimes work with BONEPWA (Botswana Network for People living with HIV/AIDS) but I find that the support groups here just concentrate on creating income-generating projects instead of morale boosting projects like empowerment workshops. There is no sharing of information and they don't concentrate on how to live positively and they don't impart constructive survival mechanisms. The two main groups, COCEPWA (Coping Centre for People living with HIV/AIDS) and BONEPWA are in competition and there is no solidarity between the few of us who have publicly disclosed our status.

Everyone wants to be identified individually and as a result there is no sense of morale among us. People like the President are more enthusiastic and more encouraging. I work with the organisations now and again but I don't want to be involved in conflicts and gossips. But I'm still looking forward to the AIDS conference in December (National Conference of People living with HIV/AIDS) because that's one forum where everyone comes together to interact and share experiences.

QUESTION: Do you think enough is being done in the country to help people living with HIV/AIDS?

ANSWER: Well the government's community home based care project helps because they give us food baskets and basic treatment. But I think it would be better if they provided us with weekly vouchers for fresh vegetables. There also needs to be proper counselling services and ongoing counsellors for us. The counselling services in this country are very poor because the counsellors are not passionate, they are just doing it as a job. But the government is very active, they are really serious about helping us, even though people living with HIV/AIDS in this country are not really active. It is only now, that they are starting to wake up.

QUESTION: What about awareness campaigns, are they getting the message across?

ANSWER: The thing is people are already infected, they should be doing more than just telling us not to get HIV/AIDS. In fact what I want to do is develop brochures that provide practical information for people living with HIV/AIDS. There are a lot of questions that people ask me in my column that are not covered in the government's brochures. Things like is it OK to carry on having sex when you are HIV positive? What kind of food should you eat?

QUESTION: What about stigma and discrimination in the community, how has the community responded to you?

ANSWER: Most people don't believe me, because I'm so healthy. Definitely there is a lot of stigma and denial in the country. Our culture makes it difficult to talk about such things. But then how do you expect people not to be in denial when they are not properly informed about how to survive with HIV/AIDS? All we get are messages telling us that "AIDS kills!" The issue that people do live with HIV/AIDS and that it doesn't mean a death sentence is never addressed. But on the other hand, since I went public, I have found more friendship and more love.

QUESTION: How would you like to see people responding to HIV/AIDS in Botswana?

ANSWER: I'd like to see more people coming out. But they must not frighten people, they must give hope, even though things are tough. The main thing is that we must give other people hope.


Recent BOTSWANA Reports
Baby steps in bringing down teen pregnancy,  10/Nov/05
The ABC of Masturbation,  5/Jul/05
Red tape stymies media spreading anti-AIDS message ,  26/May/05
Tenofovir trials to start soon - despite controversy,  30/Mar/05
Anti-AIDS drugs for armed forces,  10/Mar/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
International Council of AIDS Services Organisations (ICASO)

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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