- 2000-11-04 (Creation)
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It is for us a matter of great pride to be able to participate in this occasion. This event is a powerful signal of our people, and particularly our young people, taking matters into their own hands and assuming responsibility for tackling one of the greatest threats our continent has ever faced. The assistance of others is most certainly required in this battle, but in the end it is ourselves we have to rely on if we are to be successful. The event of this evening is a ringing affirmation of self- reliance and self-responsibility.
We must extend a word of hearty congratulations to Mpule Kwelagobe, who not only made all of us so very proud on winning the Miss Universe title, but now as Goodwill Ambassador to Botswana is contributing her talents to the common good of the people. We similarly congratulate the Botswana government for its initiative in this regard and commend the Botswana Youth Alliance Project. This form of inclusive partnership is what is needed all over the continent for us to win the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Let us not equivocate on this matter. Let us state it clearly and unambiguously: a tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. AIDS today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers. Business suffers losses of personnel, productivity and profits; economic growth is being undermined and scarce development resources have to be diverted to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on families, communities, societies and economies. Decades have been chopped from life expectancy and young child mortality is expected to more than double in the most severely affected countries of Africa. AIDS is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future.
In South Africa, for example, 'I in 2, that is half, of our young people will die of AIDS.
The most disturbing thing - but at the same time the aspect that should give us hope - is that all of these infections which statistics tell us about, and the attendant human suffering, could have been, can be, prevented. We are called to do something, to act, in order to save a future for ourselves, our countries, our continent.
Something must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency. And with nearly two decades of dealing with the epidemic, we now do have some experience of what works.
The experience in a number of countries has taught that HIV infection can be prevented through investing in information and life skills development for young people.
Promoting abstinence, safe sex and the use of condoms and ensuring the early treatment of sexually transmitted diseases are some of the steps needed and which have been shown to work in countries that made serious work of the fight against AIDS.
Ensuring that people, especially the young, have access to voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing services and introducing measures to reduce mother-to-child transmission have been proven to be essential in the fight against AIDS.
We have recognised the importance of addressing the stigmatisation and discrimination, and of providing safe and supportive environments for people affected by HIV/Aids.
The experiences of Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have shown that serious investments in and mobilisation around these actions make a real difference. Stigma and discrimination can be stopped; new infections can be prevented; and the capacity of families and communities to care for people living with HIV and AIDS can be enhanced.
The challenge all over Africa is to move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented intensity and scale. There is a need for us to focus on what we know works.
• We need to break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS;
• We need bold initiatives to prevent new infections among young people, and large-scale actions to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and at the same time we need to continue the international effort of searching for appropriate vaccines;
• We need to aggressively treat opportunistic infections; and
• We need to work with families and communities to care for children and young people to protect them from violence and abuse, and to ensure that they grow up in a safe and supportive environment.
For this there is need for us to be focussed, to be strategic, and to mobilise all of our resources and alliances, and to sustain the effort until this war is won. The Botswana Youth Alliance Project, as we understand it, is an excellent example of such a mobilisation and combination of forces and energies.
We need, and there is increasing evidence of, African resolve to fight this war. This project is one further example of that resolve. Others will not save us if we do not primarily commit ourselves.
Having said that, we cannot underestimate the resources required. The assistance of the international community therefore remains crucial even while we assume the primary responsibility. In this particular case, we are heartened to learn of the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates and the Turner Foundations.
We wish you all the success. We are indeed dealing with matters of life and death. We are fighting to ensure that our children and youth have a future.
I thank you.