BOTSWANA: New voluntary testing centre opens
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
GABORONE, 7 April (PLUSNEWS) - Parents the world over usually find it difficult to talk to their children about sex, even if they are growing up in a country like Botswana, with one of the highest HIV rates on the planet.
Embarrassment over discussing matters related to sex and the stigma surrounding those that are HIV-positive is helping to drive the pandemic. It is a challenge the Botswana government hopes to overcome, and this week opened the latest voluntary HIV testing facility in Molepolole, about 50 km outside the capital, Gaborone.
Local leaders and government officials urged the community to use the Tebelelopele Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre to know their status. There are around 16 centres countrywide.
"Ignorance can kill you," US ambassador Joseph Huggins remarked at the opening of the centre. "This disease is not a respecter of persons or rank. Whatever your station in life, one could be infected with this disease and, through stigma and denial, not even know it."
But stigma and denial remain stubborn enemies. "I think it is due to our culture, because young people feel they should not be seen using services like family planning, and showing you they are engaged in sexual acts," said Lulu Ramoeti, a nurse at the Scottish Livingston Hospital in Molepolole.
"Young people are scared that if they test positive, they will be facing death," said Matshidiso Bodigelo, a single mother.
However, Chief Kgosi Kgari Sechele, the traditional authority in the region, pointed out that even if one tested positive, the government provided free antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
"Prior to an HIV test, you carry a burden of unanswered questions. The fear of the unknown pursues you, because you wish that the thing you fear most should not befall you. An HIV test, however, helps you put your fears in perspective," he said.
"Contrary to what many may still think, being HIV positive is not a death sentence. There are opportunities for managing HIV through the ARV programme, therapies for pregnant women so that they can reduce the risk of transmission to unborn infants, and home-based care for those requiring it," said Daniel Kgwelegobe, the minister for presidential affairs and public
"In addition, groups like Coping Centre for People Living with AIDS, Botswana Network of People Living with AIDS, and others, provide support to those living with HIV and AIDS," he noted.
Ellah Mohamadi, the coordinator of the Kealetso Counselling Centre in Molepolole, believes that people are slowly starting to come forward.
"The coming of ARV treatment, and existence of certain government programmes, like food baskets for home-based care, has given HIV-positive people a bit of hope," she said. "There is something to look forward to. You are no longer told your status and left to die."