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HIV stigma: the last hurdle to an AIDS-free generation

The MidweekSun Admin

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The mid-eighties were some of the loneliest years for Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele of Manyana, as he experienced the ugliest and brutal form of HIV stigma during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The first person with HIV had just been identified in Selibe Phikwe in 1985 and unfortunately for Mosielele, a handsome young man on top of his game and the envy of many of his peers, everyone in the mining town thought he (Mosielele) was this identified Mr. X, and he was spreading the virus.“Suddenly my social life was in shambles, the rumour mill went on overdrive and friends and colleagues shunned me,” he confessed to The Midweek Sun. The isolation forced him to seek transfer to Jwaneng but within a short while, the news that Mr. X of Phikwe had arrived in Jwaneng spread like wild fire.

Three transfers later with the HIV rumours still plaguing him, Kgosi Mosielele said he began to believe the rumours and was even afraid to get tested to refute them.
“Everywhere I went even children would point at me calling me Mr X.“I was scared to go to the hospital to get tested because I had started to believe I was positive,” he said. It was only when he went for a medical check up that he was forced to get an HIV test in order to study abroad, a move engineered to get him away from the toxic environment at work. “Even after my results revealed I was HIV negative, they couldn’t believe it at work and made me take another test!”

Kgosi Mosielele shared his experience to a packed hall during the 7th Botswana International HIV Conference, held at the Gaborone International Conference Centre recently. The theme of the bi-annual conference was “Time to End it: Find, Treat and Prevent-The Last Mile.”Happily married, with two grown children, Kgosi Mosielele acknowledges that while the country has come a long way in fighting the stigma, it is still a plague that continues to follow communities, more than 30 years after the AIDS crisis emerged.

Kennedy Mupeli, AVAC Fellow and Advocacy Officer, Centre for Youth of Hope (CEYOHO) concurs. Moderating a session that took an in-depth look at the experiences of people living with HIV, he pointed out that while medicine has advanced and some of the old stigmas have faded, the fear of catching something that never really goes away and that still can provoke a sense of blame remains.
“One of the true miracles of the last 25 years is ARTs,” Mupeli said. “At the beginning, we didn’t have any decent therapies, and the ones we had were hard to take and had a lot of side effects. But in the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen very effective, well-tolerated drugs. If a person can get them and stay on them, they can look forward to a life expectancy that’s very similar to someone without HIV.

Even better, science has also proved that taken properly, medication can make it even more difficult to transmit the virus through sex,” he stated. Unfortunately, according to Mupeli, morality often takes precedence over science. “I think that people attached it to behaviours they saw as wrong. And some of that still exists today. As such people a lot of times carry a load of guilt and responsibility which makes them afraid to disclose their status.”

Activist and Treat All champion, Regina Gaolebe knows this personally.“The nature of the fear has changed because the landscape has changed,” she said.“In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a lot of fear because people didn’t know how it was transmitted and they were dying in droves. Now, people don’t think about HIV as a crisis, but they are still afraid of HIV-positive people. The stigma is still fully alive and it’s a huge driver for new infections.”

The remaining stigma, she explained, is one that hinders people to disclose their status in relationships for fear of losing their partners. “Whenever I meet men who are potential boyfriends or husband, they literally run away as soon as I tell them I’m HIV positive,” she shared. Another part of the stigma is that people only get HIV due to careless behaviour and somehow deserve the disease. But Mompati Tamari (23) has lived with HIV since birth.

“When you are HIV-positive, a lot of people automatically think you have been having random sex with all kinds of different people. You end up not having the confidence to talk about HIV,” Tamari said. At some point in his life Tamari quietly broke up with his girlfriend of two years because she was ready to stop using protection during an intimate session. “I knew I couldn’t do it but I also couldn’t disclose my status and so I left.”

Within communities, some people living with HIV live in fear or at worst suffer the wrath of rejection from society. The only alternative is to keep one’s condition a secret and even shun certain services such as treatment. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS. From such practices, there are consequences.

Unfortunately, they are wide-ranging as family, peers and the wider community shun some people, while others face poor treatment in healthcare and education settings, erosion of their human rights, and psychological damage. A summation of these limits access to HIV testing, treatment and other HIV services. “I don’t think that you can totally eliminate stigma,” another activist, diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago, Edwin Motse, said. “I think that it will always be an issue. But I think the way we overcome it is really getting to a place of being comfortable with ourselves.”
Motse also expressed concern that the role of people living with HIV is not really visible in the current setting and they are not given a voice where it matters. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was people who lived with the virus who made the greatest impact.

This is the missing link. Beyond the great miles we have made medically, people need to hear real life stories and relate,” he said. According to Motse, “People don’t need to fear HIV, they need to know how it is transmitted, what puts them at risk and what reduces that risk. We have to make testing and treatment easier to access, and we need to make sure people are stable and healthy in wholesome ways.”

Knowing first-hand how bad the misconceptions about HIV can get, Motse and other activists have made it their lives’ calling to do the advocacy work, dissolve those stigmas, and start honest conversations about the disease. They travel the country and use their social media platforms and community organisations to tell their stories and what they have overcome.
By breaking down these barriers, they hope to open up discussion about HIV without the stigma attached to it.

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Police blast man with fire extinguisher

The MidweekSun Admin

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Life has not been easy for Rakhuna man, Gaitsiwe Moroka since a police officer blast a fire extinguisher in his face at a roadblock near Pitsane this year on April 25.

The police were on duty and as a norm, they were checking for among others, the presence of a functional fire extinguisher in a kombi which Moroka and other five other passengers and their driver were using. When The Midweek Sun interviewed him on Monday, pain was written all over his face.
His is a clear sign of depression.

“My life changed drastically this year after the incident. I was on my way from signing an agreement for a tender with Botswana Defence Force camp when the police stopped our kombi at a road block in Pitsane. There was a long debate between the two police officers and our driver about the functionality of the fire extinguisher.
All of a sudden, one of the officers sprayed the fire extinguisher without checking if it was functional or not, and he directed the nozzle inside the kombi,” he said, adding that he was on his way to Lobatse where he stays.

High Court papers dated August 30, 2018 show that Mfosi Legal Attorneys are handling the case in which the victim is suing the BPS for an amount of P2.84 million.
He says although there other passengers in the kombi, he was the one most affected. The High Court documents state that the police officer did not even bother to check on the health of the commuters nor apologise for his extremely dangerous negligent act.

The kombi would then leave for Lobatse and just before it arrived, the plaintiff’s claim notes that it was apparent that the powder had affected his sight and he started regurgitating unabated, lost consciousness and woke up at Athlone Hospital with an oxygen mask strapped to his face and intravenous drip in his arm.

“To date, Moroka, 40, has a constant whooping cough and has been informed by doctors that it will take several years for the noxious elements used in the fire extinguisher to completely be flushed from his body,” says the summons, further stating that doctors had also detected likelihood of asthma.

It says that due to the gross negligence of the police, Moroka is currently unable to work, let alone work around dust. This, it says, has caused a great financial burden on him due to the fact that he is a builder by profession, and is not able to take care of his two minor children. Moroka, according to the sheet, has developed a very itchy rash all over his skin since the incident.
“What is more disconcerting is that the police have never bothered to check on the health of the plaintiff or even issued an official apology. Thus his compensation demands include gross negligence at P1 million, pain and suffering at P1 million, loss of income at P84. 200.00 and cost of the suit
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‘I feel weak’ For Moroka, the incident has left him helpless. He has given up on life and wishes himself dead. “I’m always thinking about killing myself but I always think about my two children. If I die anytime, Batswana must know that government killed me. I have no food, no income but I am a man. I believe in using my hands and legs but now my health does not permit me to walk in the sun. I’m supposed to be resting but I’m now giving up on life,” he said.

He won the children’s custody after his divorce three years ago. He is now afraid that he would lose the children because he cannot afford to take care of them. “My life is stuck. I’m sad and empty, and in deep pain. My lungs are weak. Police do not care about me after what they did to me and I’m now on my own. Government clinics do not have all the medication and my sprays, and I have to travel to Molepolole at times. My bones are always in pain and I am now on a special diet which I can’t afford,” he said.

His comprehensive report card shows a dysfunction in the heart, lungs, bones, skin and eye and makes an expert advice which is basically expensive diet and resting most of the time. Several times he had fainted while walking and at one time it happened while he was in Mafikeng, visiting a relative. He was admitted at a local clinic.
Doctors that have been attending to him since the dreadful incident that shows a common denominator of Carbon dioxide inhalation that affected his skin, sight and respiratory system. He has started counselling at SBRANA Psychiatric Hospital.

He said that efforts to seek help from BPS Commissioner KeabetsweMakgophe were futile. “I’m always told he is away,” he said. BPS Assistant Commissioner Dipheko Motube could not respond to questions sent by this reporter by press time.

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Botswana Creative Business Cup winner, Mmono joins global comp. in Denmark

Keletso Thobega

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Botswana Creative Business Cup Nicolette Chinomona says that government should channel funding and business support among youth towards the creative industry instead of focusing on traditional sectors.

This year’s winner of the cup is Lebogang Mmono of Just Ginger Beverages. Chinomona told The Midweek Sun that she applied for the license of the international entrepreneurship competition because she noticed that local entrepreneurs, particularly youth, were not getting the necessary support.

“I wanted to help develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country by generating attention for startups that aren’t traditional, that are in the creative space and think out of the box; because there isn’t enough risk appetite for supporting those kinds of startups”, she said.

Chinomona said that government has been quite deliberate in helping businesses start-ups, but the key challenge is that the government has to use the resources it has to fund business models that it feels can succeed and become a core part of the economy.

“A lot of potential sponsors and funders are intimidated at the prospect of putting money into a local enterprise.”Chinomona said that it was only entrepreneurship that could change the economic dynamics of Batswana’s lives. “As a society we need to change the narrative around entrepreneurship, we need to begin to acknowledge that while entrepreneurial paths are fraught with risks and challenges, that entrepreneurship is also a huge part of developing a sustainable economy.

“We need to be realistic, not everyone can have a conventional white-coller career. Someone has to produce the goods that people with careers want to spend their money on and entrepreneurs can make an excellent living and even thrive on that. I believe that changing the conversation around this means pushing back on the idea that failures become entrepreneurs.”

Chinomona said since working with young entrepreneurs, she had noticed that one of the key things that they say they need is mentorship. “A lot of them have the raw skill but they don’t have the business skills to be able to sell what they can easily make.

“And also they are hungry for community and collaboration, because being an entrepreneur can be isolating and discouraging.” Meanwhile, Mmono is preparing to take part in the global competition in Copenhagen, Denmark next month. She said she hoped to network and find ways to break into the global business sector by selling her uniquely Botswana products and partnering with other entrepreneurs.

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