3 September 2010:

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/ AIDS (BONELA) would like to express its disappointment following cabinet’s refusal to make condoms accessible to prisoners. Cabinet refusal on the matter was communicated by the Vice President Lt General Mompati Merafhe at today’s National AIDS Council (NAC) sitting.

The NAC, in its May 2010 sitting deliberated on the issue of prevention in prisons and concerns were raised by, among others, BONELA, His Excellency Mr. F. G. Mogae, and the Minister of Health Dr. Rev. John Seakgosing that failure to provide inmates with condoms is regressive in the combat of HIV/AIDS. At the end, the NAC, under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Festus G. Mogae, resolved that Minister Seakgosing takes the issue to cabinet for consideration and possible approval.

BONELA learnt with great shock and disbelief from the Vice President that concerns raised by the Minister of Health were his personal views and were not representative of Botswana government’s views. He maintained that “the government would not give inmates condoms.”

BONELA Director, visibly disappointed, noted that “We are disappointed that a matter so grave was treated in a manner that it was. It begs the question whether the NAC is taken seriously by our government or it’s a gathering meant to pass time? The least that cabinet should have done was to call representatives of the NAC, if they took the matter seriously, to make a case for provision of condoms in prisons. Otherwise it would appear like cabinet thought we were unreasonable in our resolution and deserved no audience at all. Decisions ought to be preceded by debates; sometimes uncomfortable yet realistic issues need thorough deliberation.

Moreover, inconsistent messages by our government are disturbing and confusing to the public. “We cannot have the Minister of Health, the Vice President and the Former President sending conflicting messages to the public, this is untenable.”

Ndadi further observed that the government on the one hand acknowledges that people have different sexual orientations, as evidenced by the recent Employment Amendment Bill, passed by Parliament. And it is a pity on the other hand government seems to think inmates do not have sex among themselves or that inmates are immune from HIV infection. This is a clear cut case of applying double standards. He further noted that protecting prisoners is by extension protecting our very own communities as prisoners walk in and out of prison daily.

“For us to reverse the tide against HIV/AIDS we need leadership that is responsive, sensitive and pragmatic. Lesotho, amongst other countries, has such leadership as inmates have access to condoms. It’s a pity our nation does not enjoy such a similar progressive leadership. Zero infections by2016 is an unrealistic dream if the current attitude is to prevail,” cautioned the Director.