Saturday, September 19, 2020

Moral bigotry and HIV/AIDS

Dear Editor

In reading through the Monitor Newspaper of 3rd March 2008, I came across two seemingly unrelated stories that pricked my conscience. One was on condoms and prisoners while the other was a tribute to our award wining Minister of Health.
I have to join Batswana in paying homage to Professor Sheila Tlou. In the world of nursing and academics, she has proven herself to be an asset to this great nation and I am infinitely proud of her in that light. Through her stewardship the MoH has been truly responsive in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS and general public education on the pandemic.

Having said that though, I find it strange that although Botswana has been progressive and single minded in her fight against this pandemic, we still are hell bent on believing that there is no sex in our prisons. Are we saying that Botswana’s prisons system does not accept incarceration of homosexuals or are we saying once one is incarcerated one stops enjoying the right to good health? Or we believe that because prisoners are aware that sexual activity of any form is proscribed in our prisons, that prisoners are aware that unprotected sex is the gateway to contracting HIV/AIDS therefore they will not engage in unprotected sex in prisons? Literature reveals that the Theory of Reasoned Action, in Public Health does not always work. The next question that begs asking would be: are we saying that because Batswana are generally averse to homosexuality or lesbianism we will bury our collective heads in the sand and wish away sex in our prisons? The fight against HIV/AIDS needs collective responsibility, dedicated and responsive campaigns that are informed by research and certainly NOT moral bigotry.

The reality on the ground is that government ploughs millions of hard earned tax payers’ money (and donors’) annually into the fight against the pandemic and has recognized the ABC strategy as a life line. The reality again is that people in this country rarely Abstain from sexual activity or are ever Faithful. So all we are left with at the moment is Condomizing. Why then would we be eager to keep the lesbians and homosexuals in the free sector of society safe through providing them with free condoms but steal those condoms from them the moment they land in prisons? Please understand that the issue is not about lesbians and homosexuals nor am I insinuating that they are responsible for HIV/AIDS transition either in or outside prisons. The issue is that we have such people in our society.

Is our prisons system reformative or retributive?

It is my solemn belief that, no matter how distasteful this might seem, we have to embark on collective responsibility to ensure that Botswana does everything in her power to protect its citizenry against the scourge. The public and the media must stand united through Agenda Setting and public will campaigns to move the prisons system and the policy makers to acquiesce to the call for condom provision in Botswana prisons. Let us not lose focus of the bigger picture here. The focus is not about condoning or not condoning the ‘immorality’ of same sex activities or sex inside prison halls. The issue is using all available and sustainable behavior change initiatives to promote positive living in the country. Let us not see the trees and shrubbery but fail to see the jungle ahead of us.

For this reason I call upon the public and the media to actively engage in public engagement campaigns. The idea here is that policy agenda is influenced by what the public thinks, cares about, and does. Public thinking and acting, in turn, are thought to be influenced at least in part by the media (Coffman 2002). Through such public campaigns we would likely ignite a chain reaction of sorts in the agenda-setting process and God willing move the prisons system and the policy makers into providing condoms in our prisons to aide inmates from engaging in unprotected sex. This is the social behavior that such a campaign would be targeting ÔÇô the correct and sustained use of condoms by inmates. This would help sustain such orthodox health behavior even long after the individual has been reintegrated into the free society. In this case it is the public’s responsibility to do everything to create an environment needed to support that behavior change.
Of course, such policy change can only happen after the prisons system has accepted that there is a problem and that they are willing to attend to the problem in a more open minded manner.

However, there is a predicament. The predicament here is that, in the retributive mind of the prisons system and policy makers, to accept that there is sex in our prisons would be tantamount to accepting failure. Failure to enforce the highest standards of bondage and a reminder to inmates and the free society that prison is not high school boarding. Prisoners engage in sex to remind themselves of their humanity, its only natural and not that the free world has to condone it.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

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