FRANCISTOWN, BOTSWANA—Officials and volunteers from the U.S.-based AIDS Awareness Organization began an aggressive campaign Monday to inform the citizens of Botswana that they are afflicted with AIDS, and explain how the sexually transmitted disease will eventually kill them.
"You have AIDS," said Pittsburgh physician and keynote speaker Dr. Julia Horton to approximately 6,500 villagers who traveled from the nearby townships of Lobatse and Palapye. "Every last one of you."
"And if you don't have AIDS, you almost certainly have HIV," she continued. "This will soon become AIDS."
AAO director Miles Garrity said the people of this sub-Saharan African nation have suffered too long without the proper knowledge of how widespread and devastating this disease really is.
"The situation in Africa is tragic," Garrity said. "Millions of people are infected with the AIDS virus—a disease they know little to nothing about. Our mission is to let these people know the facts about their AIDS in the few months they have remaining before their deaths."
The month-long, nationwide tour comes on the heels of the AAO's August visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it successfully informed the vast Central African nation's 58 million citizens that they each have the AIDS virus.
"We realize that AIDS is a huge problem in Botswana," Garrity said. "And with our help, they will soon realize that, too."
Garrity said the AAO will not rest until the thousands upon thousands of orphaned children in Botswana understand the disease that killed their parents.
"If we get the word out that people here have AIDS, they will no longer live in fear of not understanding what is slowly killing them all," Garrity said. "On our watch, every last Botswanan will receive the help they need to come to the conclusion that they have this affliction. If it's the last thing we do, we will explain this illness and describe medicines that theoretically could help treat it."
At an AIDS-awareness rally Monday, Horton sent a clear message to the Botswanans about the disease that will soon claim their lives.
"Everyone raise your hands," Horton said. "Everyone with their hand up will soon die from AIDS."
Horton added: "Sixty-five percent of all deaths in Botswana are AIDS-related, and that percentage will soon rise to include your own."
Despite the daunting task before it, the AAO is intensifying its efforts. They have scheduled a door-to-door canvassing trip in the village of Mochudi, to personally tell bedridden sufferers that AIDS is responsible for their ravaged immune systems. Additionally, they have set up informational booths in Jwaneng and Serowe to help spread the word that everyone in the village will soon die from AIDS, and they are giving out T-shirts printed with the slogan "I Have AIDS…" on the front and "So Do You!" on the back.
The AAO has also organized an emergency airdrop to the nation's remote interior, in which small chartered planes will release flyers printed with the words, "Do You Have AIDS? Yes."
By the end of October, Garrity said he hopes that not only the people of Botswana, but the entire world, will come to understand the reality of this crisis.
"All Botswanans are dying of AIDS," Garrity said. "We cannot repeat that enough."