A report compiled by Botswana Network on Ethics, Laws and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has revealed widespread willful transmission of HIV/AIDS by infected Batswana.
The report says on average, three cases of willful infection are being reported through BONELA Legal AID Program on a weekly basis since 2014.
“Willful transmission is the intentional and deliberate spreading of an infectious disease to another person and in this case HIV. The most common mode of willful HIV transmission is when an HIV positive individual engages in unprotected sex without notifying their partner about their status. In some cases partners do not do couple testing and indulge in unprotected sex without insisting on knowing each others status. On the other hand others mislead their partners that they are HIV negative,” reads the report. Through consultations and mediation conducted by BONELA, the perpetrators expressed fear that disclosure of their HIV positive status would results in them being stigmatised or being rejected. Most victims of willful infection are women of ages 20-55 years old. Men have the least reported cases but for those that have been reported they range from ages between 25-35 years old.
Commenting on the matter, BONELA Executive Director Cindy Kelemi reiterated that, “The emergence of this situation presents a serious drawback to our efforts to achieving zero new infections by 2016; we therefore encourage people to insist on safer sex if they do not know the status of their partners. This is a worrying trend which projects a sad reality for our country. Women are more vulnerable to such incidences therefore there is need to empower them to make informed decisions about safer sex,” she said.
BONELA legal advisor Keikantse Phele further explained that cases are on the rise and are always difficult to prove since there is no evidence in most cases.
“This is due to the fact that most people we have assisted do not have a testing history which makes it difficult to proceed with legal assistance,” she said adding that for one to have a valid case against the perpetrators they must have a reasonable and or direct evidence that the perpetrator knew about their HIV status and evidence of a consistent testing history.
“One needs, in all the above, to have evidence so that it can be established that in all reasonable circumstances they have been willfully infected by the perpetrator,” said Phele.
BONELA said there is urgent need for stakeholders to raise public awareness about willful transmission while addressing issues relating to stigma and discrimination. The organisation appealed to the Government of Botswana to provide funding to Non Governmental Organisations so that relevant stakeholders can raise awareness on this issue and address it as a gap in accelerated prevention efforts.