Friday, September 18, 2020

AG orders NACA to disregard BONELA’s findings on HIV among gays

The spread of HIV-Aids in Botswana continues unabated due to government’s refusal to accept the fact that same sex relationships contribute to the high rate of infection. It has emerged that the attorney general’s chambers instructed the National Aids Coordinating Agency to disregard the findings and recommendations of a research conducted by the Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV-Aids (BONELA) regarding appropriate interventions for people involved in same sex relationships.

NACA Coordinator, Batho Molomo, denies that they were instructed, preferring to say that they were advised not to allow discussions of BONELA’s findings and recommendations at the National Aids Council (NAC).

“The Attorney General simply pointed out that discussion of BONELA’s findings had the risk of prejudicing a case in which an organization associated with lesbians, gays and other sexual minorities, LEGABIBO, has arraigned Government before the courts for refusing to register it with the registrar of societies,” said Molomo.

While he maintains that NACA was not obliged to accept the AG’s advice, he agrees that they eventually heeded the advice “as we felt that there was no harm in doing that”.

Molomo’s statement was immediately rebutted by BONELA Director, Uyapo Ndadi, who pointed out that there is no case involving LEGADIMO and government before the courts of law, which he said immediately invalidates NACA’s argument that the matter is sub judice.

“Even if we were to assume that such a case is before the courts, the potential litigants or the parties to the case have no relationship to the findings of the project that BONELA embarked on as it was done by BONELA and not the individuals involved in the LEGABIBO case,” argued Ndadi.

Another BONELA official, Felistus Motimedi, told The Sunday Standard that they had wanted to present the fact that a sizeable portion of the population, being same sex partners, has been left out in the national initiative to combat HIV-Aids. BONELA’s research, which was based on a sample of 117 self identified men who admitted to having sex with other men, revealed an HIV prevalence rate of 18.6%.

Although the size of the sample is too small to draw any general conclusions from, Motimedi argues it is only proper that policy makers are exposed to the angle that tends to be in obscurity, such that they formulate informed initiatives and interventions to prevent more infections.

A comparative analysis of the Botswana Aids Impact Survey of 2004 to that of 2008 shows an increase in prevalence rate from 17.1% to 17.6%. It is on that basis that BONELA argues that there are people who are left out because of non-inclusive intervention programs.

“For as long as such people are not given factual and situation specific information on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-Aids, all efforts will be in vain,” warned Ndadi.

During the discussion Molomo also said that as far as he is concerned there is no need for a law acknowledging the existence of people who engage in same sex relationships. This was dismissed as reflective of government’s position as enshrined in the constitution, which criminalizes sex between people of same sex and defines it as sodomy.

Ndadi queried NACA’s independence, saying that the fact that it was established by a presidential directive raises doubts as to whether it can adopt any position defiant of that of government.

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