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Macao, the Venice of the far east?

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

The city of Suzhou has long been known as the Venice of China because of its many canals, but its title is now being taken away by a "real" Venice of China—that is, the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel. The 10.5 million square foot complex, the largest building in China (and the second largest in the world, behind the Boeing plant outside Seattle), cost $2.4 billion to build. The casino-resort is the epitome of Macao's efforts to rebrand itself as a prime destination for millions of Asian tourists who want to spend a weekend gambling or catching a show in the southern Chinese city. Last year, Macao surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues, aided by casinos such as the Wynn and the Sands.

Now, with the opening of the Venetian Macao, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is aiming to boost the cachet of the Cotai Strip to make it something akin to the Las Vegas strip. "Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," he said at today's opening, which was packed with thousands of eager would-be gamblers.

To learn more about the madness in Macao and how gambling has gone global, read Raising the Stakes, a fascinating article by Joshua Kurlantzick that ran in the May/June issue of FP.

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Why the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa is not yet lost

Saving Botswana baby
Kasmauski/National Geographic

Five years ago, Botswana was an HIV/AIDS basket case. It had the highest incidence of the disease in the world. Almost 40 percent of its adult population was infected. Average life expectancy had fallen below 40 years. Botswana was battling against "extinction."

In response, the government, with help from international agencies, embarked upon a campaign to contain the spread of the virus. The results are now beginning to show, and they suggest that Africa's troubles aren't always insurmountable.

Botswana has reduced the rate of HIV transmission from mother to child to below 4 percent through vigilant testing programs followed by drug treatments for mothers who are infected. Thirty-four percent of Botwana's pregnant women—around 14,000 people—are HIV-positive, and the chances of passing on HIV to a baby is between 30 and 35 percent when there's no intervention. In other words, Botswana's effective response has saved thousands of babies from contracting the virus every year. Botswana is now within the range of the United States and Europe, where less than 2 percent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers have the virus.

Botswana is also looking up in terms of other indicators. The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has dropped to around 24 percent (it's still high, but significantly better than five years ago), and life expectancy has increased 10 years, to over 50. Obviously, there's still a long way to go. But it just goes to show that smart interventions can make an enormous difference in a very short time.