A dozen HIV-positive women donned flowing evening gowns and glittering jewelry Saturday to compete in a beauty pageant aimed at fighting the stigma that still surrounds the deadly virus in AIDS-ravaged Botswana. The country has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection, with about 37% of its 1.7 million population infected with the virus. Organizers of the Miss Stigma Free pageant hope the contest--now in its third year--will show that the disease does not prevent women from being beautiful and living positively.
Cynthia Leshomo, a 22-year-old AIDS counselor, was crowned the winner to loud applause from the crowd of about 500. "I am going to urge our government to involve us HIV-positive people in work on HIV/AIDS, especially in hospitals, because we know how it is to live with HIV/AIDS," she said. Her prizes include cash, an academic scholarship, beauty treatments, and a computer.
Another contestant, Neo Sampoela, an unmarried mother of four who was diagnosed with HIV in 1994, said she wanted to help break the silence about the virus. "It is possible to live long with HIV/AIDS," she said. "I do not want people to give up because of HIV/AIDS." (AP)