By Lesego Patricia Agang
GABORONE, Botswana, 5 March 2013 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations H.E. Mr. Jarmo Viinanen, are currently in Botswana to attend the global thematic consultation on health in the post-2015 development agenda.
During their visit, they have taken time to engage with young people in Botswana, a country hit hard by HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Lake and Ambassador Viinanen visited the Bokamoso Community Junior Secondary School, where the National AIDS Coordinating Agency of the Government of Botswana and UNICEF Botswana are working with adolescents on a multimedia HIV prevention campaign called Wise Up.
Botswana has the world’s second highest HIV prevalence rate – in 2011, according to the United Nations, about 23.4 per cent among adults aged 15 to 49, 4.1 per cent among young men and 9 per cent among young women.
The Wise Up campaign was formulated as part of prevention efforts to address misconceptions and lack of knowledge about HIV among adolescents in Botswana.
Through the campaign, adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24 are empowered with information about HIV transmission, as well as myths and misconceptions about the virus, through a combination of radio, text messages and Facebook discussions.
Wise Up has already reached 4,132 young people on Facebook and 7,000 on its mobile phone platform.
The students and volunteers demonstrated to Mr. Lake and Ambassador Viinanen how they share information and mobilize and interact with their peers on Facebook. “This is a smart way to share HIV information among young people,” said Mr. Lake. “It can make a huge difference, when the power of the Internet is combined with smart young minds.”
He added that no adult can communicate with young people the way another young person can.
During the visit, they encouraged the volunteers to share some of their experiences and challenges. Volunteers explained how they are working to address the misconceptions and myths that fuel HIV, as they go around the country mobilizing their peers to join in the discussions on Facebook and via cell phone.
Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi pledged the Government’s commitment to rolling out the campaign, saying, “This campaign will save those who would otherwise be at risk.”
The campaign, which will run until 2015, aims to contribute towards the achievement of the Vision 2016 goal of zero new infections. It hopes to reach 10,000 registered users on Facebook and 15,000 on the cell phone platform by the end of 2014, with a reach beyond Botswana.
Ambassador Viinanen and Mr. Lake also visited the Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, which provides free paediatric HIV care, treatment and support to children and families throughout the country.
At the centre, they met members of the Teen Club, which seeks to assist HIV-positive adolescents by helping them share experiences, acquire life skills through peer mentorship and fight stigma.
Teen Club members shared some of their experiences, noting how the club has helped them deal with and overcome their challenges.
Mr. Lake praised the young people for overcoming the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. He also encouraged male members to help their peers tackle issues around HIV. “In Botswana, HIV is higher among girls than boys. Even though men are much of the problem, women are more often the ones who are part of the solution. The men need to be, too,” Mr. Lake said.