Are Batswana ready for life without ARVs?
Wednesday, 11 July, 2012This week I asked the question on my facebook page whether Batswana are ready for life without antiretroviral drugs? The answers to my question were unanimous. The common answer was a resounding NO! One friend remarked that Batswana do not have money and as a result they will not afford to buy the drugs for themselves. Another said most people agreed to enroll because they knew treatment is free and that they will continue to receive it till the end of the time.
Some asked the question whether government is ready to deal with resistance that arises from stopping antiretroviral drugs and starting them again. I honestly have no doubt that HIV affects us all, the poor and the rich. One body of evidence does even show that the poor are mostly susceptible to HIV. Another body of evidence indicates that HIV affects women mostly. Women are generally economically weaker than men. It follows therefore, as day follows night, that the poor and women who are greatly affected by HIV are more likely than not, unable to procure ARV’s for themselves at their own costs.
The reason why I asked the question are Batswana ready for life without ARV’s is because recently government has been making remarks to the effect that they are likely to withdraw free supply of antiretroviral drugs. In fact, President Khama, I think it was in 2008, at Selibe Phikwe World AIDS Day, remarked that free ARV’s are no longer sustainable.
I ask the question, what will inability to buy ARV’s at one’s own cost mean to those already taking them? It will certainly mean that circumstances will force them to withdraw from treatment. And what does withdrawing mean? It is a very dangerous thing to do in that antiretroviral drugs in their nature once you start them you cannot stop using them. My government is fully and consciously aware of this fact as they use it every time BONELA calls on her to provide foreign inmates with ARV’s. Government would be heard loudly to say we cannot give them antiretroviral drugs because we have no guarantee that once the inmates leave prison they will be able to continue with their treatment as it is catastrophic to stop. I wonder whether the government has suddenly forgotten about this reality. Or government in her wisdom thinks Batswana are capable to buy ARV’s for themselves?
Have we forgotten that taking antiretroviral drugs and stopping them accelerates one’s death? Are we ready to lose Batswana to otherwise avoidable deaths? Are we aware that people taking antiretroviral drugs are less likely to infect the next person? In other words are we aware that treatment is proven to be prevention? What will stopping antiretroviral drugs mean for our economy? Will workers be at work, working optimally and boosting the economy or be at home wasting away and hurting the economy? Of course I am mindful of the fact that mortuaries and undertakers businesses will blossom. Unfortunately not for a long time as our population is so small. As eventually HIV will then wipe out most of us.
Botswana has been prided as a model that put people first in its interventions and concerned about saving lives. Are we now comfortable to give away our people’s lives and good standing? To those who are contemplating enrolling on ARV’s, the message is, think carefully before you enroll. Ask yourself whether you will be able to afford them if government withdraws their supply. One is better off not taking them at all now than taking them and stopping as a start stop start does not apply to antiretroviral drugs.
Next week I will discuss the legality of this intended move and possible options available to Botswana and Batswana.