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.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”