Botswana will not give life saving ARV treatment to refugees who are HIV positive and attempts by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United States of America to dislodge the Botswana government from this position have failed.
Behind closed doors, talks between the Botswana Government on the one hand, and UNHCR and the Embassy of United States of America on the other hand, to persuade Government to integrate refugees living with HIV and AIDS into the country’s national aids treatment programme have failed.
As a result, UNHCR and the US Embassy in Botswana had to enter into some arrangement on their own, “for the sake of saving human lives”.
Roy Hermann, Head of Mission, confirmed that the Government had categorically stated that it had no problem with anyone who would want to provide HIV treatment for refugees, as long as they follow the country’s stipulated guidelines.
Thus, the US Embassy and UNHCR resolved to go it alone after Government rejected their request to incorporate the refugees in the national programme.
“As I speak to you now, one of our partners, namely, the Botswana Red Cross Society (BRCS) has already started transporting people from the Dukwi Refugee camp to Francistown for testing and, in deserving cases, enrolment for ARV, as well as PMTCT for pregnant mothers.”
The UN official further expressed happiness that most of the refugees are now coming forward to test for HIV because at least they know they would be treated if infected.
“However, although we (UNHCR), BOTUSA and the US Embassy are working together for the best we can to access hope to refugees, arrangements are still being worked out with some insurance companies to determine ways in which the services would optimally impact on their lives,” stated Herman.
In this regard, USAID is reportedly issuing some tender for proposals to carry out or provide the relevant services at the camp.
It has been stated that the US Embassy put it to Government that they would be ready to fund the treatment of Dukwi residents infected with HIV AIDS, but Government was adamant that they could not integrate refugees in the national programme, citing financial costs and sustainability.
Uyapo Ndadi, Legal Officer at the Botswana Network for Law and AIDS (BONELA) expressed disappointment at Government’s position, adding that it is inconsistent with the country’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
“Besides, how do you explain the Government’s commitment to prevention, if they think they cannot provide treatment to a section of the population on the simple basis that it is financially unsustainable,” said Ndadi.
To support his stand, he argued that the cost of treating children who were born HIV positive for symptomatic condition just because government felt it would be expensive to enroll their pregnant mother for PMTC is no doubt bound to be very high annually compared to a few weeks PMTC treatment costing.
To make matters worse, the fact that refugees are confined to one place means that, even when definite provision is made for then by UNHCR for their treatment, they cannot refill anywhere else except in Dukwi Camp, since their programme is parallel and not part of the national one.