1st December 2019
WORLD AIDS DAY 2019: “COMMUNITIES MAKE THE DIFFERENCE”
The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is an organization with an un-paralleled track record in the fight for the rights of those most affected by HIV/AIDS. Over the past 20 years, BONELA has relentlessly advocated for a rights based approach to HIV programming, particularly the rights of vulnerable and marginalized populations such as Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM), LGBTI, Sex Workers, children, women, refugees, prisoners, mine workers and people with disabilities. We have consistently used public dialogue, education on human rights and strategic impact litigation to ensure that the rights of communities are promoted, protected and fulfilled. This we have done within the confines of the laws of Botswana.
BONELA has always maintained that for us to end AIDS, we have to recognize and acknowledge communities and place them at the center of the national response to HIV. Communities have proven themselves to be leaders in innovation, disruption, and creativity; which are necessary elements or ingredients to help us move closer to the much anticipated goal of ending AIDS.
We are therefore particularly pleased that this year’s World AIDS Day Commemoration theme: ‘’Communities Make the Difference’’, is an attempt by the international community to place the community response high on the agenda, thus amplifying the voices of communities, particularly those who are vulnerable, marginalized and most affected by HIV/AIDS. The theme also provides a rare opportunity, for us as a nation to reflect on the role of communities in the realization of our goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
The third National Strategic Framework acknowledges the role played by communities and commits that at-least 30% of all HIV programmes should be delivered by, and through communities. This is indeed plausible and we hope that the Ministry of Health and Wellness, through NAHPA, will make this aspiration a reality.
In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in partnership with UNDP, conducted a Legal Environment Assessment to identify legal and policy barriers that negatively impact on the national response to HIV/AIDS. The LEA report highlighted that there are a number of policies and laws that should be reviewed, including the 2013 Public Health Act which violates people’s right to confidentiality, dignity and privacy by empowering a health practitioner to disclose their status without their consent. This law is not consistent with human rights principles and must be reviewed.
Furthermore, the LEA identifies criminalization as a barrier to enabling access to services free from stigma and discrimination. Some of the criminalized populations include Sex Workers and Men who have Sex with other Men. The Penal Code in particular is consistently used by the Police to push these communities to the margins, and further away from HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. The BBSS Study of 2018 has shown us that Sex Workers have the highest HIV prevalence in Botswana, while Men who have Sex with other Men remain increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection. It is against this background that we advocate for the removal of such legal barriers in order to ensure that these communities actively and effectively participate in the national response to HIV/AIDS. This year’s World AIDS Day theme dictates thus.
Gender Based Violence and harmful gender norms, remain the greatest challenge facing our nation. Botswana is rated second in the world with regards to rape /and or sexual violence statistics. This is a national crisis! The relationship between HIV, GBV and sexual violence has been widely reported and documented. The problem of GBV is a community problem. It highlights the challenges of a nation whose family structure, as a basis for national and social cohesion, is disintegrating. We therefore call on government, through the able leadership of President Masisi to declare a national emergency, as a call to action to address Gender Based Violence. The national GBV strategy, acknowledges the critical role played communities in addressing GBV, in-line with the theme for World AIDS day. However, the strategy remains under-funded, and the community component least funded, hence our call for increased investment.
In recent years, Botswana has experienced unprecedented drug stock-outs. This challenge is largely attributed to inefficiencies within the medicine supply chain, more pronounced at Central Medical Stores. We therefore urge the Ministry of Health and Wellness, under the able leadership of the new Minister, Dr Lemogang Kwape to hold officers to account. People must be held accountable, and those found to be thwarting government efforts towards universal health coverage should be relieved of their duties. We have faith in the new administration, and have no doubt that drug stock outs will form part of our distant unpleasant history.
BONELA pays homage to Civil Society Organizations in Botswana who individually and collectively, have contributed immensely to the national response to HIV/AIDS. Ours has always been and will always be an act of national service, characterized by pain, sacrifice, courage but most importantly fulfillment. Let’s continue working hard; the end of AIDS is insight! To the fallen heroes and heroines of the struggle, we remember, acknowledge and celebrate your efforts under the theme: Communities make a difference.
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