Former Botswana Minister of Health and current UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern and Western Africa, Sheila Tlou says Africa must begin producing anti-retroviral drugs if it is to sustain HIV management and reduction.
Professor Sheila Tlou is a Botswanan specialist in HIV/AIDS and women's health and a nursing educator. She is noted for her role in radically eliminating the stigma of HIV/AIDS as Minister of Health between 2004 and 2008. In her current role as regional UNAIDS director, she supervises 21 countries. I first asked her how Botswana managed to deal with the stigma of being tagged an HIV endemic country and the impact on their productivity.
“Inside the country, it did not affect us much because it is a small country of less than two million people. However, we saw productivity going down. In Botswana we prefer to bury on Saturdays so at least we have four days of productivity. But outside the country there was that stigma in the sense that anytime you say I am from Botswana, people look at you differently”.
New statistics in both Botswana and Ghana show a decline in HIV prevalence rates with Ghana recording a 64 percent decrease. Professor Tlou however believes Ghana still has a long way to go.
“In Botswana new infections in the past ten years have dropped by 74%. In Ghana it has dropped by about 74% but we are talking about a huge population. In a huge population like Ghana or Nigeria, if you talk about 1%, you are talking millions”.
She explains how Ghana can learn from Botswana. “What worked best was political commitment from our president. The second was zero tolerance for corruption. Botswana is rated one of the least corrupt countries in Africa so we can take the resources and put them where it is needed. Donors know their monies can all be accounted for cent by cent.
She also shares how Africa can better fight the disease. “Africa is moving and we need sustainable aids responses and pharmaceutical policies to ensure our drugs are manufactured on the African continent. Presently, our drugs are manufactured in India; and Africa must rise above that because it is not sustainable.
She said she was excited to be part of a new transition where formidable women had been appointed by Ghana's new government to lead in various positions.