HDR vs. BMW
Recently, the UN released its 2006 Human Development Report (HDR). Of the 177 countries surveyed, Botswana ranked 131st overall, by factoring its respective ranks in life expectancy, literacy rate, school enrolment, and gross domestic product per capita. For Botswana, the life expectancy is 34.9 years (176th), the literacy rate is 81.2% (79th), school enrolment is 70.7 (96th), and the GDP per capita is US$9,945 (58th). It was also announced that 50.1% of Batswana (people from Botswana) live on about US$2.00 per day.
It is clear that HIV/AIDS is one of the main contributing factors to Botswana's low ranking. Its affect on life expectancy leaves Botswana at the bottom of the list, just barely beating out Swaziland, another country that is being decimated by HIV. The two numbers that stick out in my mind, though, are the GDP and the amount of people living in poverty. Botswana's GDP per capita beats out both the Russian Federation and Mexico, but over half of the people here live on about $730 per year. In a country of only 1.7 million people, that equals staggering disparity.
The fight against AIDS is so multi-faceted that it's sometimes easy to ignore something as prevalent as poverty, especially in a country like Botswana. With free testing and ARVs available, and cross-country awareness and prevention programs in place, it seems as if everything is being tackled. These initiatives are necessary, but poverty is an issue that cannot be swept under the rug. There is no straight-line strategy for beating HIV; one must look at the situation from all angles.
Botswana is a nation obsessed with status. Last week, President Festus Mogae bought an ad in one of the local papers, urging Batswana to stop spending their money on expensive cars. While this is true, with many Batswana neglecting their own nutrition and safety to pay for high-end vehicles, Mogae failed to see the big picture. Government officials demand to be treated with so much reverence that they promote themselves to god-like status. When these people expect lavish meals and special treatment to attend a poverty awareness even, like October's Stand Up campaign, it is inevitable that they will be emulated.
To the untrained eye, the parking lot of the Ministry of Health building can be mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz parking lot, with the occasional BMW thrown in. Ironically, the Ministry building can be found across the street from the Immigration Office, where every day, hundreds of immigrants from Zimbabwe, Zambia, and other surrounding countries attempt to extend their stay in hopes of finding a job in Botswana.
HIV may not stem from poverty, but it would be foolish to ignore poverty's effect on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana. With poverty comes a lack of education, poor nutrition, and an increase in the desperation with which people try to make ends meet. Botswana is not a superpower, but it is one of the wealthier countries in Africa. It has the resources to mitigate poverty and, hopefully, drastically decrease the rate of HIV infection. First, we'll just have to convince the president that maybe it's time for a round of government pay cuts, and that Toyota makes a pretty decent car.