The High Incidence Rate of HIV in Botswana

31 Oct

Botswana is an upper-middle income country with a strong push for education from the government. All students can attend a public, or government sponsored, school until Form 3 (equivalent of Grade 10) and then they write examinations. Students with passing grades are then sponsored by the government to go to Senior Secondary School for Form 4 and Form 5. Students may then apply to attend the University of Botswana, and successful applicants are sponsored by the government. The Government of Botswana spends 8.9% of its GDP on education (compared to 4.9% in Canada).

So why does this educated country with a strong economy have the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world? Even after both private and public sector attempts to educate the population and mitigate the spread of the disease, why is the incidence rate of new infections a staggering 2.9%? I asked “In your opinion, why does Botswana still have such a high HIV infection rate?” to coworkers, friends, and acquaintances. I tried to ask a mixture of both men and women, but I only felt comfortable asking a select few men, so only 3 of the 11 responses are from men. These are the answers I received:

  • “Our culture promotes cheating.”
  • “People, men especially, don’t feel guilty about cheating.”
  • “It’s almost like people have gotten so used to it that they’re proud of it.”
  • “Men rely on women to get tested – if their partner is negative, they assume that they are also negative. If their partner is positive, they just assume that they are positive as well.”
  • “The free condoms that the government gives out are crappy condoms.”
  • “Men don’t like wearing condoms.”
  • “Men take off the condom in the middle of sex.”
  • “Men are smooth-talkers and try to convince you to have sex with them because they don’t have HIV. If you ask them to go to the clinic, then they will just stop talking to you.”
  • “People will use a condom when they are having affairs, but they think that they don’t have to use one when they have sex with their main partner.”
  • “If a woman asks her boyfriend or husband to use a condom, then he will assume that it is because she is cheating on him. So she doesn’t ask because she is afraid she will be beaten.”
  • “Even if you go to the clinic with your partner, the test is 3 months old, so one of you might be positive and you wouldn’t know. Then you have sex with your partner and get infected,” (in Botswana, the HIV test given at clinics tests for the antibodies not the actual virus, which generally take about 3 months to become present in the blood stream).

The two trends I noticed in the answers were: people have multiple sexual partners, and women do not feel safe to negotiate safe sex. I have been told that both of these are “cultural”. Are they cultural, or is that just an excuse to continue the behaviour? How can this mindset (or culture, if you buy that) be changed?

I don’t have any of the answers, but I look forward to discussing this issue, among others, next week. I have the opportunity to represent Gantsi Craft at the forum for Reinvigorating the Gender Movement in Botswana. This national forum is a chance for organizations across the country to discuss and collaborate gender issues within the country. I am hoping to come away with a greater understanding of the issues facing Botswana and ideas on how to facilitate gender and HIV workshops within the producer settlements.

*Statistics on Education Expenditures from the CIA World Factbook

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3 Responses to “The High Incidence Rate of HIV in Botswana”

  1. marnie rice October 31, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Kyla- Very interesting to read the comments you got from the sample you asked, althouth, as you pointed out, it was not representative. Still, it fits with what I’d heard before– basically, men there hold the power (even more than here), and they don’t like to use condoms.
    Aunt Marnie.

  2. Heather October 31, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Great post Kyla! so interesting to hear what locals actually think of the whole thing.
    Not completely related to your post but going off the education comment: I just had a discussion today about how the education system here doesn’t encourage the success of students. Yes the government offers financial aid and sponsorship to students who pass form 3 but often there is little effort to ensure that students actually have the skills to pass the examinations and if an individual fails then they are discouraged and have limited opportunities to try again.
    Kids continue to move up when they lack basic skills like reading and writing. Maybe this is one of the fundamental issues that links to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

    • kylamckee October 31, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      Thanks Heather – I definitely have to look more into that! I read one publication today from the government that said that about 1/4 of all drop outs were due to pregnancy – so apparently it’s a cycle of unprotected sex affecting education which affects decisions made regarding sex…

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