The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by the head of the computer software giant Microsoft, have funded an initiative in Botswana to ensure that all who need anti-retroviral medication receive it free of charge.
This is a huge undertaking when you consider the statistics. Botswana is one of the hardest hit African countries when it comes to AIDS. Twenty four percent (270 000) of the adult population of the country have AIDS and 84 000 people are at a point where they need the medication.
Further statistics tell us that the percentage of patients receiving the medication has risen from 12 percent two years ago to a whopping 85 percent today.
A funeral parlour, not shy about admitting that they had benefited from the disease, said that business had gone down 60 percent since the free drug programme had started. Before the drug scheme there were funerals every day of the week in order to keep up, rather than just on the weekends like now.
Although patients are forced to stand in lines for hours to receive the drugs, they are appreciative none the less. One woman who was told that she would have to return the following day was quoted as saying, “Who can be upset, the medicines are free”.
Many new jobs were also created through the hiring of new doctors and nurses and lab technicians to cope with the prescribing and dispensing of the large quantities of medication. Bill Gates sped this process along with yet more funding.
The programme has been so successful that AIDS related deaths dropped from 33 000 in 2003 to 18 000 last year.
It is alarming that although there are fewer AIDS related deaths, the rate of new infections has remained steady. One health worker in Botswana, who declined to be named, said: 'I would HATE to think that people are not bothering to use protection or be more careful simply because they know there is free medication available.
I also hope that people are aware that these drugs do not CURE aids either. What hope of a future is there for a country, even with free medication, when everyone will eventually require them'
He added: 'If a programme like this can be successful, why can we not seem to come up with one to PREVENT the spread of AIDS?'
A scary statistic worth looking at is the one regarding AIDS infections in South Africa. The statistic currently sits at 11 per cent of the population.
The health worker went on: 'I just hope someone can come up with some way to educate people about the disease so that they will take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others, before South Africa is in as much trouble as Botswana is/was.
If we could at the same time get rid of the damning myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, we will have succeeded in making South Africa that small bit safer for the youth and future of the country.'