On Friday, December 7th at the Boipuso Hall in Gaborone, The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) held its Annual General Meeting ÔÇô AGM under the theme “Turning up the volume ÔÇô amplifying community voices”. This was a deliberate effort by BONELA to emphasize, acknowledge and advance ‘the peoples’ voice’ in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana.
The keynote address was given by Ms. Sisonke Msimang, the HIV/AIDS Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), who emphasized that it is ‘time to start talking about love not sex’ when addressing HIV/AIDS. OSISA is a vital partner in the work that BONELA does – it addresses the human rights implications of HIV in Botswana and the region. A new board was elected on the night and lawyer Duma Boko was re-elected for another two years as the Chairperson of BONELA.
The AGM also provided a platform for various stakeholders, such as civil society groups, the media and the general public to discuss in depth HIV/AIDS related issues. The Treatment Literacy Co-coordinator, Cindy Kelemi, during her presentation on the Treatment Literacy Department, talked about the Treatment Literacy Coalition which was formed in 2006 with the aim of guiding the project in line with the needs of the community. She also explained why it is important for BONELA to have a treatment literacy department?
“Treatment is both a human rights and development issue; it’s about the right to health and access to treatment. It is also a development issue because Botswana is considered a middle income country, and it should, therefore, translate into better quality of health service.”
The department also empowers communities with information about treatment and will continue to empower communities on treatment literacy and to intensify advocacy for improved health care delivery. One of the emerging issues under Treatment Literacy is TB. The department will continue to provide information on TB through the development of IEC’s and to advocate for better services through the use of existing health education programmes.
The Prevention Initiative for Sexual Minorities (PRISM) Coordinator, Felistus Motimedi, used her presentation to explain the reason behind PRISM. The project started with a needs assessment intended to identify existing gaps in service delivery and health needs for sexual minorities (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals). The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in collaboration with other African countries (Namibia, South Africa and Botswana-BONELA) are in the process of getting permission to do research on men who have sex with men (MSM) and HIV/AIDS including an HIV Prevalence Survey. Taking part in the study awards BONELA an opportunity to establish evidence based data to support its argument for the provision of condoms in prisons, and decriminalizing same sex practices.
The presentation by Advocacy Officer, Nthabiseng Nkwe on the ‘Sexual and reproductive health rights of women living with HIV’, highlighted the challenges women living with HIV in Botswana face when it comes to their reproductive health rights. These include: increasing pressure on PLWHIV to disclose their HIV status, HIV discordance, limited safer-sex strategies and family planning, pregnancy and societal attitudes discouraging couples living with HIV not to have children. BONELA conducted 15 fact finding missions across the country with 228 people living with HIV. These were conducted in order to understand the challenges and difficulties that this particular group faces in exercising their sexual and reproductive health rights regarding pregnancy – planned and unplanned. People living with HIV continue to have satisfying sexual lives and have plans to have families. The most alarming outcome of the fact finding missions was that most of the women living with HIV (70% interviewed) were not aware of Pap Smears and had never undergone a screening. From the mere 21% who knew of such a service and had actually undergone a screening only a handful (38.9%) had received the results and a disturbing 61.1% who underwent the screening had not received their results. BONELA as a result is now airing community messages in the form of radio jingles making women aware of the importance of going for a pap smear ÔÇô the sooner the better.