Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa today said that disease-ravaged Botswana could offer a model response to the pandemic if sufficient resources were provided to boost the country's own efforts.
Just back from a trip to the southern African country, Stephen Lewis said Botswana was "the epicentre of the pandemic in Africa, and yet, the way things are evolving, it may also be a model of the international response."
Speaking to reporters in New York, Mr. Lewis used stark statistics to portray the devastation caused by AIDS in Botswana. He said that among 15-49 year olds, 38.8 per cent of all people were HIV positive - the highest rate in the world. The statistics on women were even more grim; infection rates for females were 26.7 per cent among 15-19 year olds, 43.6 per cent for 20-24 year-olds, and - "incredibly enough" - 52.3 per cent for 25-29 year olds. Summing up what these numbers meant, he said, "I suppose [it] is like saying that one out of every two women in their twenties has been issued a death warrant, unless we can conceivably turn it around."
In the face of this catastrophe, the Government was committed to the "most ambitious combination of programmes" on the continent, Mr. Lewis said. Botswana was aiming to provide treatment for 60,000 to 100,000 people by the end of the year.
The implications would reverberate beyond the country's borders, he said. "If it is successful, it will provide momentum and encouragement to all of the afflicted countries in east and southern Africa and beyond."
Mr. Lewis said that in order for the Government's efforts to succeed, good people and resources were badly needed. "They need a squadron of decent human beings who are willing to spend some significant time in the country to facilitate this historic undertaking," he observed.
"You've got something called a pandemic, which is tearing the heart of the country," he pointed out. "And the consequences of AIDS on the country's economy and capacity to respond should be part of the calculation - should be factored into the calculation - of eligibility for support or funding."
"We see before us the most dramatic experiment on the continent, imminently to be undertaken," he said. "If it succeeds, it will give heart to absolutely every country worldwide. I refuse to contemplate the possibility of failure."