Batswana no longer fear HIV/AIDS activist


TONOTA: When Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were introduced in the early 2000 they were hailed as a greater step towards curtailing deaths caused by HIV/AIDS. But that has not been the case according to one HIV activist.

Prior to their introduction nearly 21,000 people in the country were dying yearly as a result of the AIDS epidemic which threatened to wipe out the entire nation. Now HIV/AIDS accounts for nearly 6,000 deaths in Botswana, a decline resulting from the distribution of ARV therapy.

However, Barulaganyi Meshack has said that the introduction of ARVs has also led to many acts of sexual recklessness among Batswana.

Meshack was giving her experience on HIV and AIDS at the commemoration of World AIDS Day on Tuesday in Tonota this week.

She was diagnosed with HIV sometime in 2007 while pregnant and enrolled for ARV treatment in August 2008. She publicly declared her status in 2010.

“Batswana no longer fear the virus. They engage in careless sexual acts because they know that they will get ARVs. What is shocking is that some openly declare that they are no-longer fearful of HIV because they will get ARVs,” said a visibly worried Meshack.

Furthermore, Meshack said that she has noticed a trend where some HIV positive individuals deliberately infect their partners with the virus. She said that the individuals hide their HIV positive status from their partners with the view of infecting them.

“This is a worrying factor which I believe also needs utmost attention from members of the public and stakeholders dealing with HIV, if we are to win the fight against the virus,” she said.

While some may find the ARV therapy a ticket to recklessness, Meshack warned that being HIV positive and on treatment is not an easy task. “You have to be very disciplined and keep time so that you take your pills well in time which is not an easy thing to do at times,” she said.

A study conducted by government in 2013 indicated that there is less discrimination and stigma towards those who are HIV positive. Meshack does not believe this is the case.  She said stigma and discrimination are still rampant.

“There are many instances where those who are known to be HIV positive are rebuked in our communities. It is wrong and members of the community have to change tact and treat those who are HIV positive like any other person. Members of the community still have to be educated against stigmatising and discriminating those who are HIV positive,” she said. Meshack urged those infected with HIV to come out and publicly declare their status.

“Coming out can help those who have been diagnosed with the virus to get closure,” said Meshack.

She said the majority of Batswana mostly men are increasingly having sex with multiple concurrent partners which has the potential to fuel the spread of HIV.

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