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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Botswana Katherine H. Canavan, discussed World AIDS Day and U.S.-Botswana Bilateral Relations.

Katherine H. Canavan, U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
Katherine H. Canavan
U.S. Ambassador to Botswana

Event Date: 12/7/2007

Chip in Tennessee writes:

How will World AIDS Day affect the people of Botswana?

Mike in Texas writes:

What is World AIDS Day? Is it a big deal in Botswana? Are people in Botswana very aware of AIDS?

Ambassador Canavan:

Hi, Chip and Mike.

World AIDS Day, observed on December 1st each year, is dedicated to raising awareness around the world about the AIDS pandemic. It is an opportunity to remember the more than 20 million people who have died from AIDS and support the approximately 33 million people who are currently living with HIV.

It is a big deal in Botswana! Hundreds of people (myself included) came out for the national commemoration this year, which was held in the village of Letlhakeng about two hours west of the capital of Gaborone. President Festus Mogae delivered a message of hope and emphasized the importance of partnerships, such as the one between the U.S. and the people of Botswana, in fighting the AIDS scourge. To answer your last question, Mike, I would say yes, that people here are very aware of AIDS. It is estimated that nearly one in four adults in Botswana between the ages of 15-49 are living with HIV/AIDS. It is an issue discussed on television, in newspapers, on radio, in the workplace and in communities nearly every day - not just once a year on World AIDS Day. From the perspective of the U.S. government, we are trying to ensure that good information is available, backed up with widespread HIV/AIDS services that are accessible in all corners of the country.

Christine in Massachusetts writes:

What types of HIV/AIDS programs does the U.S. Government support in Botswana? Do you think that the U.S. is doing enough in this area?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thanks for the question, Christine.

The U.S. government brings technical expertise and financial support to maximize the quality and impact of Botswana's own national response to HIV/AIDS. Overall, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has contributed $207 million to Botswana since 2004 to support prevention, care and treatment services. That figure will grow to about $300 million in 2008.

But we know that money alone is not enough to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. That's why we are leveraging Botswana's national response by strengthening the capacity and quality of local programs. The U.S. provides training, technical assistance, infrastructure and human resources, such as the Peace Corps. We also provide Botswana's faith-based organizations, community-based organizations and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with technical assistance, capacity building and resources to help them provide high-quality HIV/AIDS services.

Are we doing enough? More can always be done. And that's why President Bush this year announced his intention to work with Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR. The five-year, $30 billion proposal would be in addition to the United States' initial $15 billion commitment made in 2003.

Erin in Virginia writes:

In Botswana, are your efforts focused on AIDS or is this one of many things that the U.S. Government supports? If so, how do AIDS activities integrate with other things that are going on in the country?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thanks for the question, Erin.

The U.S. government supports a wide range of initiatives in Botswana spanning from trade to environmental issues to health. However, as a middle-income country, Botswana is not eligible for some of the bilateral assistance the U.S. provides to poorer countries. I'll focus my response on HIV/AIDS, since the purpose of this dialogue is focused on World AIDS Day. You are welcome to visit our Embassy website at http://botswana.usembassy.gov/ for more information on other issues.

In terms of the response to HIV/AIDS, the U.S. government supports Botswana in a number of areas and through a number of agencies, including the Peace Corps, Dept. of Defense, Agency for International Development (USAID), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of State. Each agency has its own areas of expertise and contributes in different ways. Peace Corps, for example, has volunteers who spend two years at the grassroots levels working to build the capacity of clinics, non-governmental agencies and government departments in the areas of prevention, care and support. The CDC, on the other hand, brings technical expertise to help Botswana with surveillance studies and manage HIV/AIDS services like the purchasing and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. Each agency plays an important role and works together to help Botswana coordinate its overall response to the epidemic.

Paul in Washington, DC writes:

What is the biggest misconception in the United States about AIDS in Africa?

Ambassador Canavan:

Greetings, Paul.

I would say the biggest misconception about AIDS in Africa is that the situation is hopeless. People in the U.S. see images and read stories about Africa that give them the impression that AIDS means only death and despair.

But this is wrong. There is a lot of hope and good feelings about the successes made so far and there is much optimism for the future. With anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) available to every citizen who needs them in Botswana, people living with HIV/AIDS are looking forward to many, many years of productive and healthy lives. The Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program (PMTCT) gives us hope that an AIDS-free generation of children is just around the corner. And people are testing for HIV well in advance of the onset of illness, giving those who are infected the chance to learn to live positively with the virus, and those who are HIV negative an opportunity to develop a plan for staying negative.

Martin in Germany writes:

Ambassador Canavan! What do you think about the recent trend of young people in the Western hemisphere neglecting the risk of AIDS? Are there special programs to intensify the information on this issue?

Lisa in Washington, DC writes:

What is the American government doing to combat HIV/AIDS in America?

Ambassador Canavan:

Hi, Martin and Lisa.

Since this discussion is focusing on U.S. support to Botswana's response, I recommend that you visit the PEPFAR web site at www.pepfar.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site at www.cdc.gov to learn more about HIV/AIDS programs in the Western hemisphere and the United States, but education and behavior change are key to preventing the disease.

P in Nigeria writes:

I want to thank the organization that has been organizing World AIDS Day for some years now, in our country Nigeria. that day is a very big day. My question is, after organizing the World AIDS Day on 2nd December 2007, which year will the country will be free from aids?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thank you, P. World AIDS Day is also a big day in Botswana. Here is it organized jointly by government and non-government and private organizations. Commemorations vary from country to country, but the theme behind them is the same: "Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise."

I wish I could answer your second question. What I do know is that all of us should be asking ourselves: "Am I doing my part?" You might be aware that Nigeria is among the 15 focus countries in which the U.S. President's Emergency Plan is active. While I am not familiar with the range of activities being supported in your country, I am certain you could explore that question with the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria or check for more information at www.PEPFAR.gov.

Dieter in Germany writes:

Ambassador Canavan! How would you describe the situation of Southern Africa with regard to AIDS? Has Botswana made any progress in the last years?

Ambassador Canavan:

Good question, Dieter.

I would describe the situation as very hopeful. People are accessing AIDS treatment across southern Africa, access to health care has improved and expanded and people are living longer and healthier lives.

Botswana is considered one of the leaders in the HIV/AIDS response in Africa. It was the first country to offer free anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to all citizens that qualify. Now, more than 85 percent (around 90,500) of those estimated to need ARV treatment here are receiving it, and I'm proud to say that the U.S. is part of the reason for this success.

Speaking of progress, Botswana's Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) program is being heralded as one of Africa's best examples of how a developing country can save babies from acquiring HIV. Recent surveys show that Botswana has been successful in reducing the rate of transmission from mother to child to less than four percent. Again, I am proud to report that the U.S. technical and financial support has helped make this happen.

Paul in Washington writes:

What does the US do to help raise AIDS awareness in Botswana?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thanks for the question, Paul.

The U.S. supports a number of programs to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS issues in Botswana, but I will mention just one that's especially close to my heart: It's an HIV testing campaign called Zebras For Life - Test For Life which uses popular athletes from the national soccer team to encourage men and out-of-school youth to test.

I launched the campaign myself at the beginning of this year with help from the captain of the soccer team. The approach seems to be working. At 43 events in around the country this year, the players have empowered more than 4,000 people to know their HIV status. Moreover, about 60 percent of those testing were men!

Lukman in Georgia writes:

AIDS is a disease without borders. What is the U.S. doing to help those suffering with this disease in the region of Africa, where the people can't afford the price of the drugs?

Ambassador Canavan:

Hi, Lukman.

You are correct in saying that AIDS is a disease without borders. That's why the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) supports programs in more 120 countries around the world. There are 15 focus countries under the PEPFAR program, 12 of them (including Botswana) are in Africa.

When the Emergency Plan was announced in 2003, only 50,000 people living with HIV in all of Sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral treatment. On World AIDS Day this year, President Bush announced that the Emergency Plan now supports life-saving treatment for approximately 1.3 million men, women and children through bilateral programs in PEPFAR's 15 focus countries.

I should point out that Botswana, with U.S. support, offers ARV treatment free to all citizens who qualify. That's an amazing achievement and more than 90,500 people benefit from it.

Conrad in Florida writes:

What programs (medical, educational) in Botswana are directed specifically to orphaned children from and children with HIV/AIDS?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thanks for the question, Conrad.

The UN estimates that by the year 2010, more than 20 percent of all children in Botswana will be orphaned. You can see this is a serious concern. There are many programs here targeting orphans, but I will focus on those supported by the U.S. government.

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Botswana has supported Botswana's Department of Social Services to conduct a national assessment to determine the impact and nature of the orphan situation. PEPFAR has also supported trainings for social workers on caring for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), and provided technical assistance in developing national guidelines on the care and support of OVCs. PEPFAR funding has been instrumental in supporting local faith-based and community based organizations in scaling up OVC programs. In addition, a number of Peace Corps volunteers are assigned to help build capacity within non-governmental organizations working with orphans.

In many countries, pediatric care for these children has lagged behind. The exception has been Botswana, where the majority of the estimated 6,400 children living with HIV and needing treatment are receiving it. The U.S. government supports the Botswana-Baylor Children's Clinical Center of Excellence, which provides exceptional care and treatment to HIV-infected infants, adolescents and their families.

James in Virginia writes:

What is the future of U.S.-Botswana relations as Botswana gains power and influence as a regional leader and in the African Union as a whole?

Ambassador Canavan:

Greetings, James. The U.S. has long believed that Botswana is a role model for other countries in Africa and the world. Botswana has used its mineral wealth to the benefit of its citizens through good governance and, as a stable democracy, it has been free from internal conflict which stifles development. We believe that as Botswana gains power and influence, our partnership will only strengthen.

Eda in Washington, DC writes:

Good Morning Ambassador Canavan. In Africa, each country has their own uniqueness, what in the country of Botswana that stands out that you love about the country? Is it their music, or their dancing, or their crafts? And how does Botswana differ from other countries in Africa?

Ambassador Canavan:

Thanks for the question, Eda. What impresses me most about Botswana is the love the Batswana (people of Botswana) have for their country. They are justifiably proud of their stable democracy, judicious use of their natural resources, and their pacific nature.

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