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.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.