Following the declaration of the state of emergency, a countrywide lockdown, dubbed a period of extreme social distancing, was announced.
The question though is, did they see us?! In implementing measures to supposedly protect those in Botswana, were Batswana central to the response by government and country leadership, as directed by the taskforce? The final population impacted by the lockdowns and state of emergencies, which resulted in impacted livelihoods, were those living with HIV and AIDS. When lockdowns were introduced, there appears to have been no consideration for people living with HIV and AIDS, who would need access to healthcare facilities for anti-retro viral treatment or medication. Although any person could seek a medical permit, where one lives with their family who may not yet know of their status, how was one to explain their absence, without visiting stigma onto themselves in the ways we have seen it alive in our society? Access to quality healthcare and in this case in the form of medication could no longer be a priority, when bread and butter became the main concern and people just wanted to survive. To bring in context, Botswana is a country which, very recently lived through her own AIDS pandemic.
Each of us have at least one family member who lives with or died from HIV. In many cases, that family member is us. To this day, we have not been able to completely alleviate the stigma and discrimination that follows HIV and AIDS. As a result, many people will continue to not disclose their status to our family, or friends for fear of being judged about the decisions and choices we are assumed to have made. Stigma and discrimination are very isolating. Multiple stigmas which daily plague people living with HIV are even more isolating, distancing people from social support in many ways. Government has a continued responsibility to ensure the reduction and alleviation of HIV stigma and discrimination, which it is not living up to. We see this frequently enough to know and understand that this is perhaps due to a failure to see and respond to the new “face” of HIV. The messaging and communication continue to be the same as it was over 10years ago, when HIV affected different people in different ways.
The education, which is available about HIV, is still the same, and fails to reach the younger generation who engage with various issues in our daily lives in a very unique way. We continue to be a tone-deaf country. That, conflated with the nation-wide challenges brought about by the pandemic, sidelined a lot of members of our communities, to the point of their demises. Without targeted strategic interventions when we are faced with problems, we will not be able to combat the virus in the ways that we should. The reality is that viruses morph and take on different forms under different circumstances. It is therefore imperative that in responding to them, those at the fore be fully aware of the shifts and changes. This will go a long way in tracking, and most importantly, appropriately responding the changes.
Political and social stigma are at the heart of the responses to the pandemic in the ways we have seen them. The limitations faced by Batswana as a result of the pandemic, differs from one individual to the next, with others being impacted in ways which have rendered them more vulnerable. In many cases, those vulnerablised by the pandemic were already vulnerable to begin with, before the pandemic. But that is the reality when you put a group of cis-gender heterosexual men in a room and ask them to lead a country through the valley of the shadow of death, unchecked.
For a long time, the taskforce which came up with strategies to get the country through the pandemic were men. Men selected supposedly on merit, sure. But men, nonetheless. Men who could not consider the realities of the women whose livelihoods are based on them selling units and candy along the road. Men who cannot fathom the realities of being queer in a country which proudly denies the realities of queer persons in the country.
Amen who have never needed to escape their own country to seek economic freedom in another country; and because of how dire the situation in their own country was, they could not escape through the borders; men whose eyes are closed to the realities of Batswana in their own neighborhoods, affected by HIV is different ways. In future, should we ever find ourselves in another pandemic, we look forward to a taskforce and strategy which is more representative and responsive to the needs and wellbeing of the actual people in Botswana.