June 3 was a momentous day. I wish to congratulate the government and the people of Botswana for being among the first countries in Africa to adopt the “Treat All” policy providing antiretroviral therapy to all Batswana citizens living with HIV.
How apt that Botswana, preparing to celebrate 50 years of independence, is also making history with this bold move towards epidemic control and again claiming its place as a leader in the response to HIV/AIDS. Botswana was one of the first countries to provide free anti-retroviral therapy to its citizens during the peak of the epidemic and has been a world leader in successfully preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Now, this remarkable county’s adoption of the “Treat All” policy will ensure Batswana live longer, healthier lives and greatly enhance the prospect of an AIDS-free generation. This new policy will help avert more than 120,000 new HIV infections and 55,000 deaths over the next 15 years and significantly decrease new tuberculosis cases.
The United States government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is supporting Botswana’s move to Treat All with the goal of helping this nation reach epidemic control in the next three years. Over the last decade, PEPFAR has committed more than $750 million to Botswana in the response to HIV. Together, with the Government of Botswana, civil society and other development partners, we have come a long way.
For Test All to work, for the realization of the dream of an AIDS-free generation, we must all know our HIV status. There are still too many people who unknowingly carry and transmit HIV. This is why testing is so important. My very first official event after I presented my credentials to His Excellency President Khama was a public HIV test at Tebelopele Voluntary Counselling and Testing Center. I urge other leaders to do the same.
The very name of the new policy “Treat All” implies that anyone who needs treatment, regardless of where they originated, should be eligible. I would encourage Botswana to consider providing free HIV treatment for all people living here as they are also vulnerable to the effects of this disease. HIV doesn’t ask for a passport or Omang. Providing treatment to HIV positive non-citizens could be a prevention strategy that benefits all Botswana citizens.
Many challenges lie ahead of us as we work together to achieve epidemic control. But I promise you this: PEPFAR and the United States, in partnership with the government and people of Botswana, are committed to the goal of an AIDS-free generation. Through enlightened, ground breaking initiatives like “Treat All” – the goal that seemed at times so distant and unlikely – is within our reach. Together, we can and we will achieve it!