The southern African nation of Botswana has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection and yet is also widely considered one of the big success stories in the fight against AIDS.
On Tuesday, at a Seattle event sponsored by the World Affairs Council, former Botswanan President Festus Gontebanye Mogae spoke and took questions from an audience of several hundred people at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center.
Mogae began his remarks by recalling when AIDS was first recognized in some central African countries and was largely ignored as another one of those “mysterious diseases” that afflict or kill a few people, attract some scientists and media attention and then just as mysteriously ebb away.
Not this time.
Botswana would soon have (and still does have) one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. At the peak of the pandemic, nearly 40 percent of Botswana’a adult population was infected. That’s come down some, but today still one of every four Botswanans between the ages of 15-49 is estimated to carry HIV.
“We didn’t know what hit us,” Mogae said. “We were faced with the possibility of extinction.”