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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
Botswana's HIV programme hailed
anti-retroviral drugs
Botswana promises anti-Aids drugs to all who need them
Botswana's efforts to tackle the spread of HIV should serve as an example to the rest of the developing world, a leading expert has suggested.

Dr Helen Gayle, head of HIV at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hailed the African country's attempt to combat the disease.

Botswana has one of the highest rates of infection in the world, with around 40% of adults carrying the disease.

However, it is one of the few developing countries to offer anti-HIV drugs to everyone who needs them.

More drugs

At the moment, over 10,000 people with HIV currently receive anti-retroviral drugs.

Plans are now underway to make these drugs much more widely available.

We hope it will be a model for the rest of the world
Dr Helene Gayle
An estimated 100,000 people out of a national population of 1.5m could benefit from treatment.

A collaboration between Botswana's Government, drugs companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation means they could soon start receiving those drugs.

"The country has made the commitment that everyone who should be on antiretroviral therapy because of the stage of their disease should have access through the public system," said Dr Gayle.

"We have worked with them to really mount an impressive system.

"Now about 10,000 people are on anti-retroviral therapy in Botswana. We hope to scale that up to about 100,000 people."

Expanding the country's HIV treatment programme has not just been about money. It is also about putting in the medical staff and facilities to provide this care.

"We have learned, even in a country like Botswana which has a relatively good health infrastructure and good economy, that it does take time to develop the health infrastructure," said Dr Gayle.

"That includes people with the right type of training, physical buildings, management systems, to really be able to ramp up services to people to the scale that is necessary.

"They have also had some very impressive prevention programmes particularly focusing on young people where the disease has a strong foothold and working with people who are already HIV infected," she said.

But Dr Gayle believes the country could serve as an example for other countries in the region.

"Botswana is a relatively small population of about 1.5m people. But it had one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics and some of the highest rates in the world," she said.

"We hope it will be a model for the rest of the world of how you can mount a comprehensive programme that incorporates prevention as well as treatment.

"We hope that in the next few years, we will start to see evidence of HIV infection rates coming down in Botswana."

Speaking on the BBC's Health Matters programme, Dr Gayle said many of the predicted new HIV infections could be prevented.

"With the right type of global commitment, we could reduce two thirds of new infections," she said.

"I think the answer is really up to us. We can make a difference.

"The HIV epidemic doesn't just have to happen to us. We don't have to be passive bystanders as more and more people become infected around the world.

"There is a lot we can already do. There is much that exists now.

"If we are able to give the increased resources, scale up, have the kind of political commitment that it takes to put those programmes in place, we can have a huge impact today and if we continue with our research efforts we can have an even greater impact in the future."

This story is featured in the radio programme Health Matters on the BBC World Service.

Click here for listening times


SEE ALSO:
HIV infections top 40 million
26 Nov 02  |  Health
Aids 'kills 50%' in Botswana
07 Nov 00  |  Africa


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