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Botswana: Debswana leads fight against Aids.

Faced with the spiraling costs of health care, Botswana's leading industries are going on the offensive against the Aids epidemic and coming up with innovative ideas. Milan Vesely reports.


Led by Debswana- a joint De Beers-Botswana government mining giant- companies operating in Botswana are now required to have an Aids-prevention program in place before they can do business with the mining powerhouse. No one is exempt; all contractors from the largest to the smallest are affected.

"In Botswana, as in many societies, you now see the private sector taking the lead," Brad Ryder of the Botswana-based African Comprehensive HIV/Aids Partnership (ACHAP) says. "And the way business goes soon trickles down to the government eventually."

Debswana's' insistence that all its sub-contractors have an aggressive HIV-prevention program in place before doing business with the company is best illustrated in its housing program for mine workers. Looking to provide low cost housing for its mine labourers, Debswana required sub-contractor George Gailey to implement an HIV/Aids prevention program before he was allowed to pour even one square foot of concrete on the low-cost housing contract that his company had been awarded.

"We were not even allowed to ship in one brick before having our policy approved," he states. "The company was that stringent."

It required him to supply condom dispensers in all his worker's bathrooms, to have a full-time Aids coordinator on the payroll, and to put on regular Aids-prevention seminars for his 168 staff. He also had to have a written non-discrimination company policy against those infected with the deadly virus. "I am required to attend all Debswana's weekly meetings and this means juggling my management time," Gailey says, "it cuts into profits but is well worth it in the long run."

Inaugurated in 2000, the Debswana policy requires that all sub-contractors implement an Aids prevention program before doing business with the company. Its own much-heralded anti-HIV program was expanding and it made little sense that its contractors were not doing the same.

"Our attitude was that we didn't care what the programmes looked like as long as they were effective," said Tsetsele Fantan, formally Debswana's director of HIV/Aids impact management and now employed by ACHAP. "At first many firms resisted but they soon saw the value and Debswana's lucrative contracts were a great incentive."

In October, 2003 the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation announced a landmark deal with four European and Indian companies that produce generic Aids drugs. Considered a breakthrough, the agreement calls for the companies to supply nine countries in the Caribbean--together with Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania--with low cost, generic drugs at 40c. At $1.10 less then the open market price, this is a considerable saving, one that the African governments warmly welcomed.
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Title Annotation:Countryfile
Author:Vesely, Milan
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6BOTS
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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