The Botswana government began providing free antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2002 and in 2004 introduced routine HIV testing (RHT) in government health facilities, aiming to increase HIV testing and uptake of ART. There have been concerns that the RHT programme might be coercive, lead to increased partner violence, and drive people away from government health services.
We conducted a household survey of 1536 people in a stratified random sample of communities across Botswana, asking about use and experience of government health services, views about RHT, views about ART, and testing for HIV in the last 12 months. Focus groups further discussed issues about ART.
Some 81% of respondents had visited a government clinic within the last 24 months. Of these 92% were satisfied with the service, 96% felt they were treated with respect and 90% were comfortable about confidentiality. Almost all respondents said they would choose a government clinic for treatment of AIDS.
Nearly one half (47%) thought they were at risk of HIV. Those who had experienced partner violence within the last 12 months were more likely to think themselves at risk. One half of those who had visited a government facility in the last 24 months were offered HIV tests, and nearly half were tested. A few (8%) of those who were not asked thought they were tested. Most people (79%) had heard of RHT and 94% were in favour of it. Over one half (55%) of the entire sample had been tested for HIV within the last 12 months, one half of these through RHT. Women were more likely to have been tested.
Nearly everyone (94%) had heard of ART and thought it could help AIDS. Focus groups identified problems of access to ART due to distance from treatment centres and long queues in the centres.
Public awareness and approval of RHT was very high. The high rate of RHT has contributed to the overall high rate of HIV testing. The government's programme to increase HIV testing and uptake of ART is apparently working well. However, turning the tide of the epidemic will also require further concerted efforts to reduce the rate of new HIV infections.