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11 Nov 2015

In the last two weeks, there have been reports that government intends shutting down the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA).

NACA was established by Government at the height of Botswana’s fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

That was the time when the country faced possible annihilation from the virus.

It was also a time when there was immense political will from the highest levels of government.

Such political will is no longer as explicit as it was then.

During that time the National AIDS Council was chaired by a sitting head of state.

This was to ensure that decisions were taken immediately without having to go and report elsewhere.

Under the current administration we have seen the National AIDS Council being chaired by a former President before being shifted to a Vice President.

That is a big shift.

It is a clear signal of how the fight against HIV/AIDS has fallen down the ladder of priorities in government.

Given that HIV/AIDS fight has not yet been won, this is not encouraging.

More worrying is the fact that international partners have demonstrated what amounts to donor fatigue.

They are no longer willing to commit their resources in the magnitude that they used to.

But Botswana Government still has to spend close to a billion Pula annually on HIV/AIDS therapy.

We are the first to agree that this is in the long term not sustainable.

The best way to fight HIV/AIDS is to avoid new infections.

But we also have to face the hard reality that there are thousands and thousands of Batswana who are already on government supplied anti-retriviral therapy.

These are the people who cannot be pulled out of such treatment without casing human catastrophe.

The closure of NACA, coupled with a lack of clear political will should be cause for concern.

Added to that is the ever present warning from Government that resources are now a problem so much so that it is immensely difficult to continue with the costs of treament.

It may well be that closing down NACA is a good and well thoughtout idea. But it is important that it is sufficiently explained, given the fears and confusion it is causing among the multitudes who are both affected and infected with HIV/AIDS.

There is still a need to coordinate efforts against HIV/AIDS.

This means dealing with stakeholders both who are within the country, but also those who are outside.

Why is it that Government no longer sees the importance of NACA now?

What are the benefits to be accrued from closing down NACA?

What the risks of such an action?

These are just some of the many questions that need honest answering from the authorities.

NACA is not your ordinary department.

It is a hugely independent organisation that was built at a time when the country was at crossroads.

Closing it should thus not be a kneejerk decision, that is taken without proper consultation.

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