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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 06:08 GMT 07:08 UK
Beauty pageant battles Aids stigma
Botswana HIV positive beauty pageant competitor
The women hope they will encourage people to respect HIV carriers
In a battle to overcome the stigma that accompanies infection with HIV, Botswana has staged a beauty pageant for women who have the disease.

In glamorous evening dresses and traditional tribal costumes of animal skin, beaded necklaces and porcupine quill headdresses, 14 women competed in Miss HIV Stigma Free in the capital, Gaborone.

The contest was won by 31-year-old Kgalalelo Ntsepe who said she hoped her victory would encourage others to respect those with the disease and sufferers not to wait till they were at death's door to seek medical treatment.

Botswana has the highest infection rate for HIV worldwide, with 38% of the population carrying the virus.

I'm going around the country to talk to people to say that (being) an HIV positive person does not mean you have done something wrong. You are still who you are quote here
Kgalalelo Ntsepe
However, the country has been praised for its efforts to combat the disease.

More than 10,000 people with HIV are currently receiving anti-retroviral drugs and Botswana is one of the few developing countries trying to offer anti-HIV drugs to all who need them.

Despite the massive infection rate, having Aids or HIV is still associated with shame in Botswana.

Sufferers shunned

Local opinion surveys show that many people support the removal of teachers who have the virus and would avoid shopping at stores with HIV staff.

The pageant's organiser Kesego Basha, herself HIV positive, said she hoped the contest, now in its second year, will change that and press home the point that having the disease does not prevent women from being beautiful and attractive.

Smiling and blowing kisses to the audience, the contestants sang songs in the local language Tswana.

anti-retroviral drugs
Botswana promises anti-Aids drugs to all who need them

But on a more serious note they also recounted tales of how they coped with being HIV positive and answered a series of random questions on the disease.

Malebogo Mongwaketse, 24, told how she had contemplated suicide when she was first diagnosed with the disease.

The winner, Ms Ntsepe, who works as a counsellor for young people with HIV, described how she went from being emaciated and sickly to healthy once more when she started taking her Aids medicine.

She said she hoped the publicity she gained from winning the competition would encourage people to respect victims.

"I'm going around the country to talk to people to say that (being) an HIV positive person does not mean you have done something wrong. You are still who you are," she said.

Botswana's HIV programme hailed
18 Aug 03  |  Health
HIV infections top 40 million
26 Nov 02  |  Health
Aids 'kills 50%' in Botswana
07 Nov 00  |  Africa

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