Botswana is a landlocked country, about the size of Texas. It is located between South Africa to the south, Namibia to the west, Angola and Zambia to the north, and Zimbabwe to the east. The capital city is Gaborone.
The Kalahari Desert covers much of the central and western part of the country. Most of the population, just over two million people, lives in the more fertile eastern part of the country.
The UN, World Bank, and other international organizations give Botswana high marks for political and economic stability and a good human rights record. Botswana’s friendly, English-speaking people and an infrastructure of roads and airstrips make the country a pleasant and safe place to travel.
Botswana achieved independence from Great Britain in 1966 and since then has maintained a parliamentary form of government with a constitution and separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches. General elections are held every five years. The National Assembly selects the president from among its members. The president can serve up to ten years.
A free and private press operates several newspapers and radio and television stations. Labor unions are active in several industries.
Among Botswana’s most important industries are mining of diamonds, gold, coal, nickel, and copper; meat processing; textile manufacturing; and tourism. Agricultural products include cattle, sorghum, maize, and chickpeas. The U.S., European Union, and South Africa are Botswana’s most important trading partners.
Botswana participates in the Kimberly Process, the international consortium of governments and businesses which certifies that income from its diamonds does not fund repressive governments, terrorism, and the like.
The government has invested income, generated chiefly by mining, into an infrastructure that includes paved roads, a fibre-optic telecommunications network, and health care clinics.
The government exercises careful fiscal policy but in recent years has run a deficit as health care costs due to HIV/AIDS rise. The International Monetary Fund has described Botswana as a “middle-income level” economy with the best credit rating in Africa. That description is a mixed blessing for the country, encouraging some private investors but disqualifying Botswana from receiving aid money that now goes to poorer countries.
The Ministry of Health in Botswana is responsible for overseeing the quality and distribution of healthcare throughout the country. Life expectancy at birth was 55 in 2009 according to the World Bank, having previously fallen from a peak of 64.1 in 1990 to a low of 49 in 2002.
The Cancer Association of Botswana is a voluntary non-governmental organisation. The association is a member of the Union for International Cancer Control. The Association supplements existing services through provision of cancer prevention and health awareness programmes, facilitating access to health services for cancer patients and offering support and counselling to those affected.
Like elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, the economic impact of AIDS is considerable. Economic development spending was cut by 10% in 2002–3 as a result of recurring budget deficits and rising expenditure on healthcare services. Botswana has been hit very hard by the AIDS pandemic; in 2006 it was estimated that life expectancy at birth had dropped from 65 to 35 years. However, after Botswana’s 2011 census current life expectancy is estimated at 54.06 years. This revision shows the difficulty of accurately estimating the prevalence and impact of HIV/AIDS in the absence of hard numbers.
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Botswana was estimated at 24% for adults in 2006, giving Botswana the second highest infection rate in the world after nearby Swaziland. In 2003, the government began a comprehensive program involving free or cheap generic anti-retroviral drugs as well as an information campaign designed to stop the spread of the virus. With a nationwide Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program, Botswana has reduced HIV transmission from infected mothers to their children from about 40% to just 4%. Under the leadership of Festus Mogae, the Government of Botswana solicited outside help in fighting HIV/AIDS and received early support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Merck Foundation, and together formed the African Comprehensive HIV AIDS Partnership (ACHAP). Other early partners include the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute, of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Botswana-UPenn Partnership of the University of Pennsylvania. According to the 2011 UNAIDS Report, universal access to treatment – defined as 80% coverage or greater – has been achieved in Botswana.
Potential reasons for Botswana’s high HIV prevalence include concurrent sexual partnerships, transactional sex, cross-generational sex, and a significant number of people who travel outside of their local communities in pursuit of work. The polyamorous nature of many sexual relationships further impacts the health situation, to the extent that it has given rise to a Love Vocabulary that is unique to the region.