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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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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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