HIV city - where one in four under 50 is infected

IN THE recently refurbished Princess Marina Hospital in central Gaborone, Botswana's sprawling capital, the wards are full of young people dying from Aids.

Every week up to 70 more people infected with the condition arrive at the hospital, situated off the city's northern ring road, seeking whatever help is available.

The staff do what they can. For illnesses associated with Aids, such as tuberculosis, they can do quite a lot to help to control the pain and improve a patient's quality of life.

But for Aids they can do nothing. In Gaborone - as elsewhere around the country - there is simply not the money for the expensive anti-viral drugs used in the West to slow the effects of the disease. Drugs to treat one person for a month cost the same as a senior civil servant's salary.

"It is extremely depressing. Our wards are full of young people aged 20 to 35 dying, and that is something we are not used to," said Dr Howard Moffat, a consultant physician and the hospital's acting superintendent. "I was here when we diagnosed out first Aids case in 1986. Since then the growth in the number of cases we have witnessed has been phenomenal. And we only see a small number of those people who are suffering."

Botswana and neighbouring Zimbabwe share the unenviable honour of being the Aids capitals of the world. In both of these southern African countries 25 per cent of adults aged between 15 and 49 are infected with either HIV or Aids. In Botswana, a country with a population of just 1.5 million, this means that between 200,000 to 220,000 are infected with the virus.

Botswana's problem, as elsewhere, is one of attitudes being slow to change. An aggressive health education campaign in English and Setswana has meant that most people are aware of the dangers of Aids. Yet in a country where 95 per cent of HIV infection is spread through sexual activity, many people are still reluctant to change their behaviour. "One problem is that many young people only see the disease as something that might affect them in 10 or 15 years," said Dr Moffat. "While the infection rates of HIV are high, the number of people who have died has only increased since 1992. Now, the number of people who have died from Aids has reached 15,000 but attitudes are slow to change."

Trying to convince people to use condoms is another problem. In the past where people have used any contraception, it has usually been oral.

In Botswana condoms are as easily available as Coca-Cola. Clare Short, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, says condoms need to be as widely available as Coca-Cola if Aids is to be tackled in the developing world. But whereas the "Real Thing" costs the equivalent of 20p for 330mls, a packet of contraceptives costs five times as much.

"Condoms are available free of charge from health centres but people have to queue up for them. There is a problem with this because it is hard to persuade people to go and collect them," said another Gaborone- based health worker employed by the United Nations.

"A lot of men simply don't want to go to health centres and get these things. If the Government is going to persuade people to use them it is going to have to try and ensure condoms are available elsewhere.

"One difficulty is that until recently Aids has not been a visible problem. It has been easy for people to think it will not affect them."

That situation is rapidly changing. While experts believe the percentage of people infected is unlikely to rise further, the actual number of people developing full-blown Aids will increase.

And Aids is not just affecting adults. In Princess Marina Hospital, built in 1966 to celebrate the country's independence from Britain, 25 per cent of the infants receiving treatment are babies born infected with HIV.

And the children's wards at the hospital, like those set aside for adults, are full.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn