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ARV’s saved 13 million lives thus far – report

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 32 million lives so far. However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

There were approximately 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018. According to World Health Organization report, concerted international efforts to respond to HIV and coverage have been steadily increasing. In 2018, sixty two percent of adults and fifty four percent of children living with HIV in low-and middle-income countries were receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy. A great majority which is equivalent to eighty two percent of pregnant and breast-feeding women living with HIV also received ART, which not only protects their health, but also ensures prevention of HIV transmission to their new-borns.

In June 2015, over twenty four million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy, the report said. Between 2000 and 2018, new HIV infections fell by 37 percent and HIV-related deaths fell by forty five percent, with thirteen point six million lives saved due to ART. This achievement was the result of great efforts by national HIV programmes supported by civil society and international development partners.

However, not everyone is able to access HIV testing, treatment and care. Notably, the 2018 super-fast-track targets for reducing new paediatric HIV infections to forty thousand was not achieved. Global targets for 2020 are at risk of being missed unless rapid action is taken. Due to gaps in HIV services, seven hundred and seventy people died from HIV-related causes in 2018 and 1.7 million people were newly infected.

In 2018, for the first time, the report underlined that individuals from key population groups and their sexual partners accounted for over half of all new HIV infections globally (an estimated 54%) in 2018. For eastern European, central Asian, Middle Eastern and North African regions, these groups accounted for around 95% of new infections.

The report also indicated that key populations include men who have sex with men; people who inject drugs; people in prisons and other closed settings; sex workers and their clients; and transgender people. In addition, given their life circumstances, a range of other populations may be particularly vulnerable, and at increased risk of HIV infection, such as adolescents girls and young women in southern and eastern Africa and indigenous peoples in some communities.

There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective antiretroviral drugs ARVs can control the virus and help prevent onward transmission to other people. In this report, it was shared that at the end of 2018, an estimated 79% of people living with HIV knew their status. Over 62% were receiving antiretroviral therapy and 53% had achieved suppression of the HIV virus with no risk of infecting others.

A scientific trail confirmed that if an HIV positive person adheres to an effective ART, the risk of transmitting the virus to their uninfected sexual partner can be reduced by 96% in 2011. Following the results, WHO recommended that all people living with HIV should be offered ART with the aim of saving lives and significantly reducing HIV transmission? A 2019 study showed that HIV transmission risk through sex without condoms in serodiscordant men in same sex couples who were virally suppressed an on ART was effectively zero.

Furthermore, the report stressed that oral PrEP of HIV which is the daily use of ARVs by HIV-negative people to block the acquisition of HIV has been effective in reducing HIV transmission among a range of populations, including serodiscordant heterosexual couples (where one partner is infected and the other is not), men who have sex with men, transgender women, high-risk heterosexual couples and people who inject drugs.

In 2018, according to this WHO report, 82% of the estimated 1.3 million pregnant women living with HIV globally received ARV drugs to prevent transmission to their children. A growing number of countries and territories are achieving very low rates of MTCT, with some formally validated for elimination of MTCT of HIV as a public health problem. Several countries with a higher burden of HIV infection are also progressing along the path to elimination.

World Health Organization recommended that all people living with HIV be provided with lifelong ART in 2016, including children, adolescents and adults, pregnant and breastfeeding women, regardless of clinical status or CD4 cell count. By mid-2019, 182 countries had already adopted this recommendation, covering 99% of all people living with HIV globally.

Meanwhile, the UNIAIDS Programme Coordinating Board held a full-day ‘’thematic segment’’ on reducing the impact of AIDS on children and youth to discuss the many challenges facing children and young people living with, or at risk of acquiring HIV just recently. UNIAIDS Director Winnie Byanyima called to ramp up paediatric prevention, treatment and care, not just as a medical imperative, but as a matter of human rights.

The discussion also called attention to the failures of the AIDS response in areas such as vertical transmission, testing of infants, paediatric treatment, and reduction of viral load among children living with HIV. There was also a call to translate political will into political action, stressing in particular the need for governments to fully implement WHO guidelines and stop delivering suboptimal antiretroviral to pregnant women and children. A key focus of the discussion was the halted progress on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Even where statistics show high levels of antiretroviral therapy initiation, too many women are dropping out of treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and many others are unknowingly becoming infected with HIV during this period. With the global vertical transmission rate still high at 12.7% in 2018, it is critical to test all HIV-exposed infants within 2 months after birth and deliver the test results to caregivers quickly, the caucus established.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

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.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

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.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

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.”

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