Saturday, September 26, 2020

Laws prohibiting same sex render NACA irrelevant in fight against AIDS

Although Botswana’s National Aids Coordinating Agency (NACA) has been mandated to employ a multi-sectoral approach in facilitating efforts directed at tackling the problem of HIV and AIDS, it has been accused of being a dismal failure in terms of coming up with an inclusive strategy that recognizes the existence of a multifarious constituency that it has to fulfil.

Moreover, the fact that NACA has been established through a Presidential directive, as opposed to an act of Parliament, means that it has limited independence and can only advise Government within the scope of the country’s national laws, which currently criminalize same sex relationships.

Coordinator for the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities (PRISM) at Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), Felistus Motimedi, lamented that no provision has been made both in law and in terms of health and counseling facilities, to guarantee the protection of people involved in sexual relationships other than heterosexual (male and female) against HIV infection.

Consequently, the “HIV transmission chain” continues to enjoin a wide spectrum of sexually active men and women despite authorities refusing to look reality in the face.

To make matters worse, the vicious cycle ends up looping in even those who would have taken every precaution to stay safe, but for restricted public health interventions availed by Government, there are fears the country may be headed for the worst.

In this context, a case was cited in which Judge of the High Court Justice Dibotelo, spared a certain Skipper, a prison sentence on the basis that he was still young, and that sentencing him to jail would amount to sentencing him to death as he would be exposed to the risk of HIV infection which he posited was very high in the country’s prisons.

Added to this, the findings of a yet to be published study conducted in 2008 by BONELA to determine the extent of the impact of HIV infection on people engaged in same sex relationships reveals a pattern pointing to a potentially explosive situation.

It was established that out of 117 self identified men who were involved in same sex relationships 3.4 % slept with other men, 22.8 confessed that they did at some point or other slept with men and that at the time of the study, they were either married or involved in a heterosexual affair.

The study further indicated that 21.2 % were in fact involved in both heterosexual and same sex relationships at the same time.

Following on from this, it becomes apparent that given the cross cutting nature of multiple-concurrent relationships involving men who sleep with other men, and their inevitable link with their heterosexual innocent wives and husbands as well as intimate partners, the whole nation may sitting on a powder keg.

Notwithstanding these startling findings, information passed to the Sunday Standard has it that BONELA’s proposal to share them with National AIDs Council (NAC) were frustrated by the Attorney General’s Chambers under the pretext that they tallied with legal representations before the courts, by an organization purporting to speak for people associating as Lesbians, Gays and Bisexual as well as Transgender and Intersex.

It emerges that sometime early May, this year NACA after looking at BONELA’s findings and being in agreement asked BONELA to share the findings at a Pre-NAC meeting where it was widely commended.

“Strikingly, however, shortly before the actual Council meeting where high placed Government officials and policy makers sit, BONELA received correspondence to the effect that it will not possible to make our presentation, as it carried arguments filed by LEGABIBO before the law courts and therefore sub judice, stated one activist who declined to be identified.

This was confirmed by BONELA.

Despite the most intelligible brains that man the organization, it is regrettable that NACA cannot think or act outside Botswana’s outdated laws, quipped Uyapo Ndadi in an interview, after a workshop aimed at sensitizing journalists on the challenges presented by cultural, religious and other prejudices in combating the spread of HIV.

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