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Road to 2030: Long way to go for Botswana

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.

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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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