Monday, September 21, 2020

Inmate faces death by discrimination

A Zimbabwean national who is serving a six year prison term at the Gaborone Central Prison faces a death sentence because government will not enroll him on HIV treatment.

HIV positive George Vingaso who was found guilty of robbery by the Village Magistrates Court is wasting away in prison and has been left to die because government policy does not allow the provision of ARV treatment to foreign prisoners.

Before his extradition from South Africa to stand trial in Botswana, Vingaso had tested HIV positive in Lehurutshe Hospital and was enrolled on ARV therapy. During his trial at the Village Magistrate Court, he notified the court of his status. Magistrate Lot Moroka issued an order that Vingaso be put on ARV treatment. The government has however defied the court order. The Commissioner of Prisons responded by writing to the court clerk stating that government policy doesn’t allow for provision of ARV treatment to foreign prisoners.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is helping Vingaso launch a final battle for justice and for his life. Legal Officer, Dikeledi Phoo revealed this week that Vingaso’s state has been “deteriorating rapidly since his incarceration and he now suffers from several ailments which despite taking antibiotics won’t go away or will not heal.”

BONELA has given government 30 days to honor the court order, after which they intend to institute legal proceedings and seek declaratory orders that the said practice is unconstitutional. BONELA has already issued a statutory notice of intention to bring legal proceedings against the Ministry of Health and Commissioner of Prisoners in terms of Section 4 of the State Proceedings Act.
“The above notwistanding we advise that we may not wait for the notice period to lapse depending on the medical condition of the client which is rapidly deteriorating “said Phoo.
Phoo said failure by government to provide Vingaso with access to ARV treatment has resulted in the inmate being infected with painful and severe opportunistic infections which will lead to “premature, predictable and avoidable death. “

“This conduct is unconstitutional in that it is in violation of section 7 and 15(3) of the constitution of Botswana in that other Batswana similarly situated are accorded ARV treatment at government’s expense, “said Phoo.

BONELA provided financial support for Vingaso to determine his CD4 count at Independence surgery in Main Mall.

“The results showed his CD4 count was at 300 and he was already suffering from opportunistic infections in particular persistent boils on the lower back, swollen legs and experienced difficulty in breathing, “said Phoo.

Phoo further stated that “it’s a principle of law that government has a legal duty of care and protection over all inmates irrespective of their nationality. This legal duty seeks to ensure that all prisoners leave under conditions that are consistent with human dignity, including but not limited to, the provision of adequate accommodation, nutrition and effective and appropriate medical treatment.”

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.