BONELA is baffled by the statement published in the Tautona Times Vol. 9 no. 18 (30/7/2011)

2 August 2011:
(BONELA) is baffled by the statement published in the Tautona Times Vol. 9 no. 18 (30/7/2011)

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) is baffled by the statement published in the Tautona Times Vol. 9 no. 18 (30/7/2011), issued by the Commissioner of the Botswana Prison Service stating that “there are no “cases of HIV positive foreign prisoners some of them terminally ill and left to die””.

BONELA wishes to point out that this statement is a contradiction to sentiments uttered by the Acting Minister of Health during a parliamentary sitting last week to the effect that foreign inmates are not afforded antiretroviral drugs (ARV) due to the costs of providing such treatment.

As an organization we are worried about this apparent contradiction which points to a lack of transparency on the issue. 
Whilst BONELA does not dispute that policies and procedures of dealing with terminally ill inmates are in existence, as noted by the Commissioner, the issue is, whether they are being followed and if they are adequate in ensuring that an HIV positive person can restore their CD4 count to normal levels in the absence of treatment. It is perhaps high time that these policies and procedures are revised in light of the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and in the interest of safeguarding the health and life of all inmates and society at large.

It is common knowledge that AIDS is a terminal illness and once someone is infected with HIV they will eventually die if they do not receive ARVs, whether opportunistic infections are treated or not.

In addition, Legal Officer Dikeledi Phoo Dingake said “BONELA stands by its statement that indeed there are foreign inmates that are HIV positive and not on treatment. Seven inmates have to date approached our organization and we opened files to take up their cases. In the interim, we have had to solicit for well-wishers to provide antiretroviral drugs for the urgent cases based on valid medical records.”

Currently, Botswana commences ARV treatment when one’s CD4 count is 250. However, as noted by Dingake;“one of our clients has a CD4 count of 47 vis a vis 600 to 1000 for an HIV negative person. Clearly, this situation is unacceptable as they are in urgent need of treatment, in spite of the policy and procedures which are doing nothing to restore their health” she said.

BONELA thus calls upon the relevant authorities to investigate the issue of ARV treatment for foreign inmates further and seek a holistic human rights-based approach to ensure that prisons do not become a breeding ground for HIV infections. We also believe in the global approach that recognizes the efficacy of treatment as a mechanism for prevention of new infections.

BONELA is a national network of individuals and organizations that promotes a just and inclusive environment to ensure the quality of life for people affected by HIV and AIDS through advocacy and capacity building.