Botswana May Lose 30% of Economic Growth to HIV

August 29, 2002

Botswana May Lose 30% of Economic Growth to HIV

Botswana's AIDS crisis, affecting more than one-third of its adult population, is eating into its reputation for economic growth, reports the Wall Street Journal. Over the next 20 years, it's estimated Botswana will lose 30% of its economic growth and more than 20% of the nation's children may end up as orphans. The government estimates each citizen may only contribute five productive years of labor to the economy, versus previous work lives spanning 15-30 years.

Botswana is the world's largest producer of diamonds by value. Last year, Debswana, the joint mining company owned by De Beers and the goverment, announced it would subsidize the cost of antiretroviral treatments for HIV-positive employees and infected spouses. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Debswana pays 90% of these costs for the employee and one legally married spouse who is HIV-positive for as long as the employee remains with the company. It also subsidizes the cost of monitoring the concentration of HIV virus in the body and pay for blood tests.

WSJ reports that in 1999, 59% of all employee deaths at Debswana were AIDS-related. But since the company treatment program has started, the rates of deaths and absenteeism have stabilized, according to Tsetsele Fantan, director of Debswana's AIDS program. Still, Debswana has started succession planning for critical jobs that would cripple operations if left vacant.

The government is also working to keep its younger generation from getting infected, through a prevention and treatment program called Vision 2016, which hopes to see results within another generation. It has placed safe-sex signs, buttons, bumper stickers and billboards thorughout the nation. Condoms are widely available in most business and office buildings. The government has also started a drug-treatment campaign to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Several private organizations are responding to the crisis, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The Merck Co. Foundation. The Peace Corps is also heading back into Botswana, after leaving in 1997.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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