Monday, September 21, 2020

We should increase our gains in the fight against HIV-Aids

The report on the second quarter of the National Aids Council was released last week. The report states that Botswana has made significant gains in the fight against HIV-Aids. It is well known that HIV-Aids has cost this nation dearly. Botswana has lost able and educated individuals who could have contributed to the national economy. Families were left untended as breadwinners succumbed to HIV-Aids, leaving grandmothers to take care of their little children, and eventually saddling government with the task of taking care of destitute orphans.

The Botswana government has to be commended for its sterling efforts in fighting HIV-aids. When HIV-Aids was threatening the very existence of this nation, the leadership of this nation made it their personal mission to make sure that Batswana are protected. To date, we are witnessing the results of our leaders’ sterling efforts.

The number of first time testers at Tebelopele increased by 20.1%, and statistics show that the number of people who test positive is gradually decreasing. The number of repeat testers also increased by 34.8% between October 2009 and March 2010.

Batswana have also embraced new strategies like safe male circumcision, as part of the national prevention strategy. As of March 2010, a total of 5, 775 males were circumcised. Many a time, males have been accused of lagging behind and not being as proactive as women in the fight against HIV-Aids. That they have now come to the fight is quite commendable.

While we appreciate these gains, we have to warn that some Batswana have not realized the dangers that HIV poses to this country. There are still many who engage in risky sexual behaviors. We urge Batswana to desist from these negative habits, for they can only draw us backwards. Many of our youth have still not heeded the HIV-aids message, yet they are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow. Alcohol abuse remains one of the factors that greatly fuel the spread of HIV-Aids. While we cannot dictate how people live their lives, we can only encourage them to exercise caution, drink responsibly and make sure that they are protected at all times. The future of this nation is at stake, and it is only when the torchbearers, the youth, take the lead in the fight against HIV-Aids, that our efforts can bear fruit.

Sadly, we have watched with trepidation a lot of bickering among stakeholders who are supposed to be working in unison to lead Botswana’s fight against HIV-Aids. We have observed a very isolationist and combative tendency among national HIV-Aids stakeholders on the one hand and core organizations like the National Aids Coordinating Agency on the other hand. We believe these organizations have a common mandate of leading Botswana’s fight against HIV-Aids, and we wonder why they cannot work together cordially.

One of the complaints raised by some non-governmental organizations is that government is not vey forthcoming with information. Once again, the issue of access to information comes to the fore. It is for the national interests that operations of government sponsored organizations tasked with steering Botswana’s HIV-Aids campaign should be public knowledge. We want to know how NACA use their funds, and how projects such as MASA are doing. Such information should not be secretive, as is the case, but should be put in the national discourse. Access to vital information about health programs as well as how key decisions are made should be open to civil society and the public. This will enable civil society to meaningfully participate in the national response to HIV-AIDS. Information on these organizations’ decision-making processes, such as contractual agreements and procurement, should be availed to the public to ensure accountability.

We applaud the government of Botswana for implementing the new public act. This act will fight discrimination of HIV positive employees in the workplace. The new public act specifically states that the HIV status of job seekers cannot be used as a determining factor during recruitment. The act also protects non-citizens who were previously required to go through HIV testing before they could be considered for employment in the public service. Employers and workmates who disclose their employees and counterparts’ HIV status will also be liable to a fine.

However, as the Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV-Aids has rightly pointed out, the same rules should be applied to the private sector. We cannot have a situation where one set of rules is applied to the public service and a different set of rules is applied to the private sector. For a long time, the private sector has been lagging behind in complementing government’s efforts to fight HIV-Aids. That why stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of one’s status is prevalent in some private sector organizations. Such a situation is a recipe for disaster. To that end, we call for the employment act to be updated to be on par with the new public act.

On a lighter note, government’s recent decision to engage representatives of sex workers, gays and lesbians is a move in the right direction. We live in challenging times. While our culture and religion does not recognise the existence of such people, the times that we live in dictate that we wake up to such challenges and accept that such people are part of our society. They also have to be incorporated into our national HIV-Aids strategies. Otherwise we will be fighting a losing battle.

Once again, this is a call to arms to all Batswana to join the bandwagon and contribute, in whatever little way that they can, to fighting HIV-Aids. We cannot afford to have any more infections. We should strive for zero infection, and zero HIV-Aids related deaths. In the long run, the provision of free ARV’s will not be sustainable.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

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