Botswana offers free HIV treatment to citizens & Migrants
London, Oct. 6, 2019 (AltAfrica)-Botswana is offering free HIV treatment and drugs to both citizens and non-citizens in a major policy shift that closes a significant gap in the country’s response to the epidemic
The Southern Africa country is also extending its free antiretroviral therapy initiative to migrants and sex workers.
Antiretroviral drugs are drugs used to prevent a retrovirus, such as HIV, from replicating. The term primarily refers to antiretroviral (ARV) HIV drugs.
According to reports, more than 30,000 migrants living in Botswana are HIV positive, and most of them are sex workers.
Before now, the country, like many other countries in the world, does not offer treatment to non-citizens.
In 2016, the country decided to adopt a treat all strategy by extending free treatment to all citizens living with HIV, a step that has been yielding significant results. Since 2010, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by a third, with new HIV infections down by 36% over the same period.
“I commend Botswana for extending free treatment to foreign residents living with HIV,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. “This measure will save lives and help the entire country progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic―it is another example of Botswana’s leadership and its determination to leave no one behind in the response to HIV.”
The Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness consulted closely with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the International Organization for Migration, other United Nations agencies and other development partners to develop the new policy.
Based on the government’s decision, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will issue a special government directive to allow health facilities to provide treatment to all people living with HIV residing in the country
A Thirty-five-year-old HIV-positive sex worker from Zambia and currently living in Botswana granted an interview to an international media agency.
In the interview, Mary Banda explained how the initiative will likely better the lives of many individuals.
“I am very happy because most people’s (lives) will be saved. Especially those who were struggling to get ARVs from back home. When they called us to get help, we couldn’t believe that it was really happening. We thought they were just talking.
“After getting the medication, they make sure we are follow up to check if the tablets are fine and taking the medicine. They monitor if there is nothing like side effects or whatever,” Banda said.
The initiative by the Botswana government has received accolades from local and international non-governmental organizations as a positive step toward fighting HIV/AIDS.
Tebogo Gareitsanye, a legal and advocacy officer at the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), describes the development as progressive.
“Sexual relationships are indiscriminate. That is to say, we cannot provide ARVs to a certain portion of people who live in the country, and yet not provide the same treatment to another sub-sector of residents of the country,” Gareitsanye said.
The local sex workers’ organization, Sisonke Director, Tosh Beka also commended the move.
“We are very excited. It is long overdue because we have been fighting for migrants to get ARVs. It is a milestone,” Beka said.