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The Miss Stigma Free Beauty Pageant

Everybody sing!! : Can you be as lovely as Lara Roxx with your butthole filled with pox, Miss Botswana….

GABORONE, Botswana — A dozen HIV-positive women donned flowing evening gowns and glittering jewelry to compete in a beauty pageant aimed at fighting the stigma that still surrounds the deadly virus in this AIDS-ravaged southern African country.

Botswana has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection, with about 37 percent of its 1.7 million population testing positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

Organizers of the Miss Stigma Free pageant hope the contest — now in its third year — will show the disease does not prevent women from being beautiful and living positively.

Cynthia Leshomo, a 22-year-old AIDS counselor in a floral gown, was crowed the winner Saturday 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.

Judy Peacock, Miss Botswana 2004, helped the contestants prepare for Saturday’s pageant by coaching them in how to answer judges’ questions about AIDS and walk down the runway with poise.

The women, aged 18-35, were making an important statement by participating, Peacock said.

“They are telling the world: ‘We accept our condition, and we want to live positively with the virus,”‘ she said.

The contest, organized by the Center for Youth of Hope AIDS support group, was held at Gaborone International Convention Center and broadcast on national television.

Diamond-rich Botswana has been aggressive in fighting the pandemic, launching the African continent’s first program to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system in 2002. Some 34,500 people are now receiving treatment here, according to government figures.

But fear and discrimination persist, preventing many citizens from coming forward to be tested for HIV.

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.”



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