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HIV Patients' Privacy Compromised Over COVID-19

PINI BOTHOKO
HIV Patients’ Privacy Compromised Over COVID-19
While government does not share the coronavirus (COVID-19) patients’ status citing medical confidentiality and right to discretion, HIV/ AIDS patients have come to lose their privacy due to invasive regulations.

HIV patients find themselves having to give up their statuses to law enforcement officers and members of the public during commute, as those without travel permits are forced to produce evidence of medical appointments.

The difficulty in accessing permits sparked a debate on social media with commentators blaming government for failing to put people’s health at the forefront when addressing COVID-19 regulations.

An AIDS activist, Neo Simon disclosed the concern following numerous complaints from people living with HIV/AIDS. “I have been receiving complaints from clients. HIV/AIDS patients are likely to default on their medication following restrictions on COVID-19 regulations,” Simon said.

“Greater Gaborone is on lockdown and some patients have been struggling to access permits when applying online, something that has forced them to go out of their homes without the permits in order to seek medical attention.” Simon added some patients had to produce their medical cards to public transport operators in order to meet their doctors’ appointment or to do drug refills. She said HIV patients no longer have privacy something that they are not pleased with.

“Imagine when you are forced to produce your medical cards in public transport. Some patients are not yet ready to disclose their HIV status and being forced to produce their Infectious Disease Care Clinic (IDCC) medical cards in public is a violation of their right. Those cards are different from ordinary medical cards and you can imagine what happens if people see them in

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a public transportation,” Simon said. She stated that stigma against people living with HIV is still rife in Botswana, a situation she fears is likely to worsen. She said demanding a medical card from patients is a violation of their right, something that needs immediate attention.

Simon pleaded with the government to consider doing media outreach to sensitise public transport operators and law enforcement officers on the matter. “You cannot be assured that after seeing your HIV status the public transport operators and passengers in that public transport will not share that person’s status with anyone. Some people are not yet ready to disclose their HIV status and you can imagine what will happen after people seeing that person holding an IDCC medical card in a public transport. A majority of people are likely to default putting their health at risk,” she said.

Reached for comment, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Lemogang Kwape said no one has the right to demand another person’s medical card because they are confidential.

The minister advised members of the public to consider seeking assistance from clinics in their neighbourhoods for medical officers to arrange documents to travel to hospitals for doctors’ appointments. 

Dr Kwape said the restrictions on people’s movements are meant to control the spread of the virus not to punish anyone. He advised Batswana to resuscitate their tuckshops so that people do not have to travel long distances to the shops.



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