Botswana has been in a State of Public Health Emergency and a period of extreme social distancing for 25 days. According to the latest reports; 22 people have tested positive for COVID -19, and as we stand on the precipice of the end of the period of extreme social distancing (or lockdown); there is need to reflect on the adopted approach and whether it is indeed inclusive, responsive and does not create further marginalisation and vulnerability, particularly for those who live on the margins of society such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Intersex and Transgender (LBGTI) persons, men who have sex with other men (MSM) and sex workers.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has observed that the LGBTI, men who have sex with other men (MSM), and sex workers already experience structural barriers to access health related services and are predisposed to socioeconomic disadvantages, mental health issues, disproportionate levels of violence, stigma and discrimination. COVID-19 and the imposed restrictions aimed at preventing and containing the virus such as social distancing and the current national lockdown, further exacerbate these barriers, disadvantages, and vulnerabilities.

As the country is prioritising COVID-19 related health services, there is need to ensure that LGBTI people, MSM and sex workers do not face an interruption of services such as those of a sexual and reproductive health nature, including access to condoms, dental dams, lubricants, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PReP), hormone therapy as well as the provision of STI screening and HIV testing. This will go a long way in ensuring that gains made in HIV prevention, care and support are not lost.

The lockdown, as important and necessary as it is, has forced the LGBTI community and sex workers to be confined with family members who in some cases are not accepting of their sexual orientations and practices. This has led to violence against these communities at the hands of their family members, stigma and discrimination. Through its Legal Aid programme, BONELA has received reports of sexual violence; particularly among sex workers. Furthermore, the lockdown has also lead to increases in anxiety and depression among these communities, consequently; leading to increased suicide rates.

BONELA therefore submits that Government of Botswana;

  1. Develop COVID-19 messaging and Q&As/FAQs, in consultation with organizations that work with the affected key populations, that respond to their specific vulnerabilities and concerns.
  2. In consultation with organizations and groups that work with the affected key populations, develop socioeconomic stimulus packages that reach key populations especially those involved in informal economies
  3. Develop COVID-19 responses that address mental and psychological health for key populations
  4. Include existing LGBTI, MSM, and sex work organizations, groups, and communities in engagement and outreach as they also play a key role in COVID-19 prevention and support services.

Moreover, BONELA urges the affected populations to;

  1. Take social interactions online in order to check in with their kin
  2. Seek out psychosocial support especially that which can be provided online or over the phone
  3. Report incidences of violence and other rights violations
  4. Follow Ministry of Health & Wellness COVID-19 prevention guidelines, practice social distancing, and stay safe at all times.

For more information, contact BONELA on:

Tebogo Gareitsanye at tebogog@bonela.org or +267 73297509

Cindy Kelemi at cindyk@bonela.org or +267 73007782