President Ian Khama was last week accused of prioritising poverty eradication programs over HIV programs. Speaking at the National Aids Council this week, an officer from Department of Gender Affairs, Matshidiso Thathana, said under President Khama’s reign issues related to HIV have been relegated to second place, unlike during former President Festus Mogae’s era when issues related to HIV were given priority and put under the portfolio of the Office of the President.
She observed that President Khama’s administration gives priority to poverty eradication programmes and called for the repositioning of gender based departments to curb issues related to gender violence. In response, Mogae who chairs the NAC fell short of agreeing with Thathana’s observation. “Maybe you are right in saying an issue that is located at the Office of the President is given priority and is more likely to be done successfully.
During my presidency, HIV was located at the Office of the President,” he said. Mogae added that poverty eradication programs have made progress because they are currently administered at the Office of the President. On other issues, Mogae called on government to accelerate socio-economic interventions to deal with poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and inequality adding that these have a bearing on the AIDS epidemic.
He added that he is a firm believer in the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender and declared his support for sexual workers despite the country leadership’s reservations about such issues. He called on government to be inclusive in its HIV prevention measures by including homosexuals and sex workers in the campaign against HIV/AIDS. Mogae also implored government to decriminalise sex work, saying the current state of affairs deprives sex workers of access to available prevention and treatment measures. He argued that for zero new infection target to be achieved, gays, lesbians and sex workers should be included in HIV prevention measures. The former President also slammed the police for harassing and ill treating sex workers.
“It’s sad how we have sidelined these people. We do not give a damn about how they got infected. We have to give them treatment. The reason why I call upon police not to harass sex workers is because that has potential to deny them access to treatment, prevention and intervention,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Senior Consultant Virologist at Botswana Harvard Partnership Dr Madisa Mine told the National AIDS Council that the prevalence rate of HIV in Botswana has stabilised during the past few years.
He said although the country was unlikely to achieve its target of zero infections by 2016, indicators such as low AIDS-related deaths and fewer new infections were signs that the country was making progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “People are not dying in large numbers and we are also dealing with the issue of new infections effectively. This is partly due to successful implementation of programmes such as Anti- Retroviral Therapy,” said Mine.