Gaborone - Botswana's people are generally Aids-wise both in their behaviour and their knowledge, yet the country has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection.
Preliminary findings of the Botswana Aids Impact Survey (BAIS), completed last month, revealed that people are aware of the nature of HIV infections and how to prevent them, they are not promiscuous and widely believe that women can negotiate safe sex.
The survey found that 89 percent of Batswana know how to prevent HIV infection, 84 percent believe a woman can negotiate safe sex and 41 percent have no misconceptions about Aids and know that even a healthy-looking person can carry the infection.
Fewer than six percent of the population had more than one sex partner in the last 12 months.
Aids workers have pointed out that adherence to the government's education campaign to "abstain, be faithful, condomise" would not mean an almost immediate drop in the rate of infection.
Ernest Darkoh, leader of the antiretroviral (ARV) programme, said: "Many people believe in a falling prevalence figure as the measure of the success of the overall Aids campaign. But no, it should not fall, it should stabilise.
"At this time falling prevalence means those infected are dying. If I treat you, you remain alive, but you also remain HIV-positive.
"After some years of stabilisation we will be able to measure incidence in a controlled sample of the population and set new standards and trends.
"From there we could make estimates of behaviour change. That is the ultimate answer - to aim for changes in sexual behaviour."
BAIS showed an overall infection rate of 17,1 percent of the 1,7 million population, 287 000 of whom live with HIV-Aids, 76 percent of them in the highly economically active group.
This is an improvement on the United Nations' 1991 estimate that 19,4 percent or 330 000 people would now be infected, 90 percent of them highly economically active - figures that have been repeatedly criticised as being too pessimistic.
The slight drop in the BAIS figures might reflect the stabilisation, Darkoh said.
About 72 percent of the 15-to-24-year-olds and 49 percent of 25-to-49-year-olds told the survey they used condoms, which are free and available in Botswana.
HIV testing too, is free, and is also offered routinely, but voluntarily, to hospital patients.
The survey further indicated that among Batswana aged 15-to-49, 38,4 percent of females and 23,9 percent of males had been tested.
households have one member who has been seriously ill for at least three months. One third have one or more orphans.
In November 2004, 28 000 of the 110 000 Batswana who needed antiretroviral treatment received them at a cost of 168-million pula (about R220-million) a year to the state.
BAIS further estimated that 25,3 percent of 15-to-49-year-olds, 34,.4 percent of 25-to-49-year-olds and 16,9 percent of 20-to-24-year-olds, were infected.
This amounts to 45 percent of Botswana's labour force, but it impacts largely on the non-diamond industries.
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