BONELA blasts GUS over ARVs for foreign inmates

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*ARV treatment costs P180 - Ndadi
The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has condemned a statement by Assistant Minister of Health Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri regarding government's refusal to provide foreign inmates with Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Speaking in Parliament, Matlhabaphiri defended government's stance not to provide foreign inmates with ARV drugs, saying it is costly to do so as inmates find such drugs unavailable in their home countries after returning there, which happens quite often.

However, BONELA maintains that there is lack of political will by the Botswana government regarding this issue.

The Director of BONELA, Uyapo Ndadi, said: "the comments by Matlhabaphiri are both careless and callous as they reflect not only the position of government on this population, but on all people living with HIV.  The response to HIV/AIDS calls for progressive leadership that will think outside the box. Clearly, there is need for transformational leadership if we are to overcome the challenges posed by the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Botswana and achieve our goal of zero new infections by 2016."

Ndadi said that earlier this year, the National AIDS Council was informed that a comprehensive feasibility study was being undertaken by the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA), the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defence and Security and other partners to inform HIV interventions targeting prisoners.

"As an organisation, we are now worried that perhaps this was lip-service as a decision has seemingly been made on the fate of HIV positive foreign inmates.

"In our opinion, the study would highlight the number of foreign prisoners in need of ARV treatment, as well as a computation of the costs involved in providing treatment of opportunistic infections (OI) vis-a-vis provision of ARVs, (considering that Botswana is using generic drugs that are even cheaper to procure) and the implications thereof," said Ndadi.

In the absence of such evidence, Ndadi said the Minister's assertion was uninformed, misleading and a mere fallacy.
"It costs about P180 to provide ARVs to an individual in a month, and clearly the benefits of saving a human life, preventing infection and re-infection of citizens overwhelms this paltry amount," Ndadi said.

BONELA said treating OIs, may prove more costly to Botswana as there will be a continuous need to treat the same or different OIs.  Further, BONELA said, treating OIs does not address HIV, which is the underlying factor as HIV will continue damaging the immune system of inmates in the absence of antiretroviral therapy (ART).

"Of note is the threat of tuberculosis (TB) in a prison setting.  Whilst treatment is provided for TB, the latter will be infectious prior to treatment as well as two weeks after commencement of the treatment.  Government is better off providing treatment to foreign inmates because once they get TB - which is an airborne disease - they will still be in a position to infect Batswana inmates.

Eventually, Government will end up treating the whole prison, instead of an individual, as many OIs are highly infectious," said Ndadi.

He said the argumen that some inmates originate from countries where there are no ARVs is fallacious.

 "Which countries are those and who said their fortunes will not change?  Furthermore, inmates once out can fend for themselves.  It is better to be sent to your country fit and healthy than dead or terminally ill," the BONELA chief said.

In view of the above, BONELA questions the appointment of Botswana to the United Nations Human Rights Council if it can just look on whilst foreign prisoners waste away because of HIV while in Botswana prisons.

If indeed the concern is in relation to the cost, Botswana can engage external countries she has bilateral relations with through the joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide treatment to save lives, whilst a viable solution is sought, BONELA said.

As a human rights organisation, BONELA said they find it baffling that a health official can be so insensitive to the plight of an HIV positive person in any setting, especially when the whole world is calling for human rights as the only approach to universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

This is because any HIV and AIDS initiative that is not deeply entrenched in human rights fundamentals will not succeed, said BONELA.

BONELA said there is evidence that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS will reduce HIV transmission rates as it acknowledges the differences among human beings that make them vulnerable to HIV infection. Such interventions therefore, will ensure that attention in terms of prevention is afforded to those most at risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.
(Sila Press Agency)


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