Although Botswana is on track to achieving the 90-90-90 goals by 2020, and in effect ending HIV/AIDS by 2030, the country is not out of the woods yet.
Although regarded as ambitious, the 90-90-90 target states that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. 90-90-90 is a concept introduced by the United Nation’s programme on HIV/AIDS in 2013. The strategy is an attempt to get the HIV epidemic under control and is based on the principal of universal testing and treating.
So far, 87.3% of Batswana know their HIV status, while 86.9% of those that had tested were on ARV therapy while 78% of those that were on treatment were virally suppressed. National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) officials as well as officials from the ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) revealed worrying trends they continue to encounter in the fight against the scourge, amid significant achievements made in the last two decades.
NACA Coordinator, Richard Matlhare told a press conference on Tuesday this week that although some may feel that the war has already been won, there was still a long way to go to conquer the scourge. Matlhare highlighted that the country is regressing when it comes to behavioural change and condom usage. “Our statistics prove that statistics for condom use are declining, despite them being distributed for free at various facilities.”
Equally worrying, he revealed, is the increase of new infections amongst adolescent girls and young women in the ages 10-24. “This age bracket is our future; it is the cream of this country. When you consider these figures, you would agree that we need to work hard around this area,” he said.
Further, he said, key populations had yet to be solved, despite them being key in the equation to defeating HIV/AIDS. “Key populations include sex workers, men who have sex with men and marginalised groups. This the main reason the theme for this year’s World Aids Day centres on the right to health. The theme, ‘My Right to Health’ emphasise that no one should be left behind.”
He underscored that too many people around the world were being denied that right to health, and therefore there was need for Botswana to introspect where it stood with regards to that. “Quality health is not only about access to these services or facilities but comprises many pronouncements and assurances; including being treated with respect and dignity, stigma and discrimination and gender equality amongst others.”
UNAIDS Country Director, Jyothi Raja said although Botswana’s case was exemplary with regards to treatment, it is unsettling that new infections figures were not rapidly dropping, as would be the expectation. She said that men were still not testing as much as women and as a result did not receive treatment on time. Raja elucidated that the country needed strategies targeting adolescent girls and young women (10-24) as they have proved to be in danger more than ever.
Promotions and Communications Officer at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jonathan Moalosi said although Botswana was globally considered to have eliminated Prevention from Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) the ministry was worried by cases of seroconversion noticed in breastfeeding mothers who abandon condom use and in turn infect their babies. “You may be aware that our PMTCT rate is less than 2% while uptake is at 96%. This new trend will certainly set our government aback by 10 steps,” he said.
He encouraged breastfeeding mothers to test regularly so that if there is need, the mothers are enrolled into relevant programmes, and said that men should take the lead in ensuring condom use at all times. It was also revealed that the Bobirwa District, having been hard hit by HIV in recent years had been chosen to host the World Aids Day commemoration for the next five years. HIV prevalence is Bobirwa is the highest in the country at 19.1 percent. Bobirwa has a population of 70 000 (2011 consensus).
District AIDS Coordinator for Bobirwa district, Kabo Kgwaraga, said that the district was experiencing challenges of men not willing to test. He said that in 2016, 3322 people in the ages 15-34 of which 72% were women and 27% men. He said for the ages 35 years and above, only 1551 people were tested and 60% of them were women whilst 40% were men. He asserted that women were the ones testing positives more than men.
The district, he said was affected by gender violence and defilement, and teenage pregnancy cases amongst others. Matshekge hill is reported to have recorded 35 cases of teenage pregnancies this year alone. The closure of the BCL mine, he said, had resulted in an influx of people returning to the district and has since led to an increase in transactional sex. At least 403 326 of Batswana are living with HIV and of that number 305 000 are on treatment, of that number 302 453 were said to be on treatment by February this year.
In June this year, government in partnership with the United States government’s Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) launched the “Treat All” campaign. Treat All is an initiative through which people who test positive for HIV will be put on ARV therapy as soon as possible after testing regardless of their CD4 count.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”