Tuesday, September 22, 2020

There is need for national debate on sustainability of free HIV/AIDS drugs

Tuesday, December 1 is the World Aids Day.

As is the case for the rest of the world, for Botswana it is that time of the year when yet again, as a nation, look back to remember those of our people we have lost to HIV/AIDS.
It is that time of the year when we have to give hope to thousands of our people who live with the disease.

It is almost a truism that almost every Motswana has either been infected or affected; one way or another.

December 1 is that time of the year when we have to remember thousands of orphans who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

More importantly, it is that time of the year when we once again reflect on our past achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS and also look ahead with fresh and dispassionate eyes at what still needs to be done for us to overcome the challenge.

While for Botswana, the challenges look insurmountable, as a people we should not be daunted.

We have come too far to give up.
We have achieved too much as to allow the big challenges ahead to break our spirits.

As a people, we should be thankful of the visionary leadership that we have had that took the right decision as this nation was going though the cross roads.

As a people, we should be grateful that at a time when we faced annihilation in the face and other nations tripped themselves and fell down, our leaders proved to be up to the challenge.

Even as we look back with gratitude and pride ourselves with the great leaders that God has given this nation, we should not shy away from confronting difficult decisions that still face us as a nation.

Botswana Government was one of the earliest on the planet to provide free HIV/AIDS medication to all people who needed it.

This was achieved with generous assistance from abroad.
The bulk of the tab was, however, picked up by Botswana Government itself, close to 90 percent of the total amount, if not more.
In recent times, like the rest of the world Botswana’s economy has had to undergo a meltdown.

There is no law that says Botswana Government should provide anti-retroviral drugs.

Botswana Government provides these out of a genuine sense of responsibility and compassion.

As we all know, any other alternative would be too costly to even contemplate.
But still we have to start talking about the long term sustainability of free HIV/AIDS drugs.

This is important because over the past year we have seen just how vulnerable we are as an economy.

Our over reliance on a single commodity to drive and spur the whole country is as we have seen our Achilles Heel.

Addressing the Nation on the World Aids Day in Selibe Phikwe last year, President Ian Khama touched on the issue of costs of the medication.
We cannot agree more with what he said on that occasion.

As if the nation needed reminding, he talked about the high costs of the drugs, along the way alluding to the sheer un-sustainability of the programme in the long run.

While President thanked our development partners, for coming to our assistance, he highlighted the fact that the burden remains to be shouldered by Botswana Government.

He said, as a result of the high costs, many development projects have had to be deferred or altogether postponed as government wrestled with the challenge of investing more money into saving Batswana’s lives by way of buying more drugs.

But still the questions, remains: just how sustainable is the scheme in the long run?

He said something to the effect that drugs can only do so much, while the rest has to be taken care of by behavioural change ÔÇô Discipline to use his exact word.

As we look back at what we have achieved in our fight against HIV/AIDS and prepare and brace ourselves for challenges that lie ahead, we think this is one of the most uncomfortable questions that have to find its way into the realms of our public debates.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.