Dumelang! I am excited to open the newest installment of the New Directions program. I understand nearly half of Botswana’s population lives within one hundred kilometers of Gaborone, so we realized how important it was to bring the program here. Of course there are some health issues distinctly affecting Gaborone that we felt should be addressed by this seminar as well.
In this globalized economy, health research and standards of practice are constantly evolving and improving, but often these developments are slow to reach the public and the health providers who serve them.
To address this problem, PEPFAR Botswana uses its New Directions in Global Health Program to bring together an inter-agency team of public health experts together with district stakeholders and Botswana media outlets to create and deliver interactive seminars held around the country on a quarterly basis.
The program also partners with the District Multi-Sectoral AIDS Committees who manage the response to HIV in their districts, and the INK Center for Investigative Journalism, which is able to bring relevant media outlets into the conversation.
These seminars provide information on research, best practices, and successes in the response to HIV and other global health concerns, empowering local communities with greater access to vital information. This information contributes to a more equitable public health system and higher uptake of health services such as voluntary HIV testing and counselling, PMTCT, Safe Male Circumcision, and anti-retroviral treatment.
To date, New Directions has held community dialogues with the media and district stakeholders in Selebi-Phikwe, Maun, Sowa Town, Lobatse, Molepolole, Serowe, Kasane, and, most recently, in Ghanzi in April 2016. Looking forward, the New Directions seminars will travel to Francistown in December, and next year we will have seminars in Goodhope in March, and Maun in June.
However, it is our intention that these seminars will not merely provide useful information and ideas, but also lead to strengthened linkages between the national program managers and community-based organizations, as well as revitalize communications on key issues in local forums, like the DMSACs.
I am especially pleased that this edition has been dedicated to the theme “closing the health gaps in Botswana’s adolescent girls and young women.” This is a critical issue for us to examine, in light of the harsh reality that every day 1,000 girls and young women are infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
For many years now, we have struggled against a stubbornly persistent health gap: teenage girls account for 71% of new HIV infections in adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. Botswana’s young women are also part of a larger and more shocking disparity- HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for women and girls of reproductive age in low- and middle-income countries.
Simply put, we must do much more to tackle the root causes of these inequalities if we are to achieve sustained control of the HIV epidemic in Botswana. As you engage in these sessions, I ask that each of you reflect on how these issues relate to the young women and adolescent girls in your own families.
Finally, New Directions is designed to enhance policy dialogues among health partners, the media, and key policy makers at local and national levels. These dialogues can benefit all parties by providing the necessary communication and information sharing that will help roll out new policies and provide critical feedback to improve services.
For example, PEPFAR Botswana has committed more than $20 million in additional funds to support Botswana’s “Treat All” Policy, launched by His Excellency President Khama in June of this year.
It is now imperative that all stakeholders support the continued roll-out of this policy and work together to address barriers to treatment access, initiation, and retention in care.
The Government of Botswana is fully committed to developing an evidence-driven response to HIV and Tuberculosis, and we are very proud to continue our support of their response as strategic partners.
I look forward to the ensuing discussions over the next two days and welcome the continued dialogue and partnerships between our U.S. agencies, national and local government departments, NGOs, and community leaders.
Thank you and best wishes for a fruitful seminar!
Ke a leboga. PULA!