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.
Former President of Botswana Festus Mogae
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.”
Mechai Viravaidya at Seattle Town Hall
Mechai Viravaidya is known around the world as “Mr. Condom” or the “Condom King” for his activism promoting safe sex in Thailand when the AIDS epidemic first emerged. Many say Thailand’s aggressive condom promotion within the sex industry did a lot to lessen the impact of the pandemic there.
On Thursday evening, after stopping by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation earlier in the week to speak at their annual meeting, Mechai gave a talk at Seattle Town Hall. The event was sponsored by the World Affairs Council.
The economist and former legislator-movie star is very entertaining, even though he tends to use the same jokes. (I met Mechai almost 10 years ago in Bangkok at one of his famous Cabbages & Condoms restaurants … and heard some of the same jokes then. They’re still funny, though)
Mechai didn’t talk about condoms much this time. He talked about a much grander project he’s been working on for more than 30 years, and which led to his condom activism. Continue reading
I forgot to tell you earlier why I gave this series of stories about the Millennials its title:
Connected to change.
Maybe it’s obvious, but the first point here is that this generation, also known as Generation Y (though I’m told they don’t like that designation … too close to Generation X), is connected. The impact of the web and other information technologies on this generation is no small thing.
“Our phones are always ringing or sending text messages,” said Autumn Lerner, a Millennial who is vice-president for Seatte’s World Affairs Council. “Most of us don’t know what it’s like not to be this connected.”
And this connection is not trivial. Some experts say the current turmoil in the Middle East likely would not have been able to take off, grow so fast and maintain its momentum without the web, phones, Facebook and other instantaneous means of communicating. Continue reading
Jonathan Watts used to say a prayer as a young boy living in Britain that included the request: “Please make sure everyone in China doesn’t jump at the same time.”
Today, living in China as the Guardian’s Asia environment correspondent, Watts no longer worries that such a coordinated ‘people’s movement’ would wreak havoc on the planet. Instead, he’s concerned that China’s rapid economic growth will, if it follows the Western path of industrialization, do much more damage than a billion Chinese leaping in concert could ever accomplish.
“When a Billion Chinese Jump” is the title of Watt’s book, an entertaining travelogue that frames his sobering examination of the environmental consequences of China’s rush to modernity and global economic leadership. He spoke Thursday evening at the UW’s Kane Hall, his lecture sponsored by the World Affairs Council’s young professionals international network. Continue reading