Monday, March 1, 2021

Botswana faces HIV crisis among adolescents

A study by the National Coordinating Agency (NACA) presented at the National Aids Council meeting has sparked fears that Botswana’s gains in combating HIV/AIDS may be under threat as the country has started to record high levels of HIV prevalence rate among adolescents aged between10 and 14 years. Details emerging from the presentation show that there was a decline of 0.2 percent between 2004 and 2008. However, according to a slide presentation titled “rough road: cohort-level HIV Prevalence: 2004-2013” there was a sharp increase of 6.6 percent in HIV prevalence between 2008 and 2013 among the adolescents aged between 10 and 14.

There was also a sharp increase in HIV prevalence among youth aged between 15-19; between 2004 and 2008 HIV prevalence rate increased from 6.5 percent to 12.3 percent while between 2008 and 2013 it rose from 12.3 percent to 21.2 percent. Youth between the ages of 20-24 were also not spared from the high levels of prevalence rate as between 2004 and 2008 it grew from 19.0 percent to 25.9 percent while between 2008 and 2013 the HIV prevalence rate rose from 25.9 percent o 34.0 percent. Presenting on the slide in question, Director, HIV Prevention Joseph Kefas said the HIV prevalence among adolescents aged between 10 and 14 years was a worrisome trend.

“Among the young people, new HIV infections are still taking place,” he said. Commenting on the presentation, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi who is also the new NACA Chairman said “this slide shocked me. Young people are in trouble. Maybe there is a lapse in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) program.”

Masisi added that “We are growing a population that is HIV positive. They are going to need more PMTC more than you and I; we gave them HIV.” It also emerged from the presentations that there was a decline in condom use and this prompted Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee onHIV/AIDS Gilbert Mangole to ask if “Am I wrong to express my view that the decline is not to do with reluctance but to do with availability.” Responding to Mangole’s concerns, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Shenaaz El-Halabi said “we do have condoms in our facilities. But there are some issues that could have contributed to decline in condom use such as reluctance to use female condoms. We will ensure that we distribute condoms that are user friendly. We will also encourage consistency condom use and ensure condom availability because it is a prevention measure.”

Mangole added that one of the factors that could be contributing to the decline in condom use is to do with access to facilities where condoms are stored. For her part, the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) Ruth Maphorisa said there is need to come up with ways that could ensure that there is what she called localised solution to each community to combat the spread of HIV. “For instance school going children are a community on its own and we need to find a localised solution that fits their needs. We should not lose sight of the fact that each community responds differently to different situations,” she said.

Masisi informed Maphorisa that she should also come up with various interventions on how to tackle HIV issues in the public service. “The public service is one big community; go and think about how you intend to tackle HIV in the public service then bring it here or elsewhere,” he said. Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS Executive Director Cindy Kelemi expressed concern that the civil society as a stakeholder in the fight against HIV/AIDs is struggling financially.

“After Botswana was classified as a middle income country, the civil society in Botswana is struggling to receive donors,” she said. Masisi assured Kelemi that “funds from NACA are not only for government agencies but for you as well.” Kelemi commended Tshireletso for her continued advocacy for sex workers saying other politicians should take a cue from her.

Kelemi also commended government for including sex workers and gays in its application for funds to Global Fund to be used in prevention and treatment programmes. Reports indicate that Global fund had drawn up new requirements for countries to be eligible to qualify for funding and Botswana was forced to include minority sexual groups in its application to avoid being disqualified.

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