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Punitive laws promote HIV stigma

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The criminalisation of HIV simply promotes stigma and undermines the remarkable global scientific advances and proven public health strategies that could open the path to defeating AIDS by 2030, Justice Edwin Cameron has said. The pioneering judge and activist from South Africa, who went public about his positive HIV status in 1999 was giving a key note address during a four day training for lawyers and media on HIV and TB criminalisation in Johannesburg recently. Justice Cameron began with an overview of how criminal HIV transmission and exposure laws are both HIV specific and those that use existing assault legislation, are “stunningly wide in their application and fearsome in their effects.”

He said there was need to question why criminal law singles out HIV-positive people for prosecution when the same Criminal Code powers are not being used against those who expose people to other potentially deadly conditions.”I feel a sort of intensity about these issues because of the path I have walked. I have been close to death from AIDS. I’ve had my life given back to me. And I’m still the only person holding public office in the whole of Africa who has spoken out about living with HIV.” He argued that laws are misconceived and an ineffective tool for preventing transmission since the majority of transmissions occur during consensual sex when neither partner is aware of their HIV status.

“The biggest fallacy is that criminal law protects those who are HIV negative. But all it does really is to double stigmatise people,” he stated. Being openly gay, Justice Cameron said he has also felt the sense of shame when he was first diagnosed. “You can’t understand HIV stigma until you understand sexual transmission of HIV”. Adding, “It is this shame that explains why we target HIV.” Justice Cameron emphasised on the role of human rights and the need to fight stigma and discrimination as an important element of taming the HIV epidemic.

He also referred to the motion unanimously adopted in November 2015 that was moved by Human Rights lawyer and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) leader Duma Boko and that was seconded by Ahmed Shaik Imam of South Africa during SADC-PF joint session. The motion had called on SADC member states to consider rescinding and reviewing punitive laws specific to the prosecution of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure. It also reiterated the role by parliamentarians to enact laws that support evidence-based HIV prevention and treatment interventions that conform to regional and international human rights frameworks. “We have to go back a few steps and consider how we use power and mechanism of the use of law. It must be based on facts, not on stigma and stereotypes,” Justice Cameron concluded.

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BATTLE FOR MMADIKOLO

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University of Botswana students are bracing themselves for the Student Representative Council (SRC) elections. Contenders are fighting tooth and nail to appease the electorate. Three camps are in contention to fill the 13 council positions.

Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) Moono-wa-Baithuti has the onerous task of defending all the 13 seats which they hauled at the last elections of 2018. “As Moono wa Baithuti, we have lots of achievements. We are on the verge of getting the student bar open, so we need to go back and fix what we started,” said UDC’s Tumelo Legase who is vying for the position of Vice President.

He said they have advocated for student empowerment policies and are also proposing a third arm of student representation. “We have the SRC and the Judiciary, what we need is the student Parliament so that we have a large number of leaders who can independently attend to problems across the university.” The dark horse in this race is the University of Botswana’s Alliance for Progressive (AP) which will take another leap of faith despite their loss in the previous election.

They are rejuvenated and redefined. Candidate for Vice President Karabo Bokwe said central to their mandate is making the welfare of the student community a priority. “We want to help eradicate school policies that border on oppression, and through new polices call for initiatives that come with enterprenuership benefits to students.”

AP candidate for Information and Publicity, a first year Criminal Justice student Gracious Selelo said they are more united than other parties even at national level. “We don’t have internal squabbles within our party, we are more focused and can deliver our mandate easily,” she noted.

However the ruling party’s BDP GS-26 will come with all guns blazing after an embarrassing defeat in the previous elections. Preparations have been made and the GS-26 is looking to take the elections by storm.

According to their Presidential Candidate Boniface Seane, they come with the message of hope that addresses the current status quo at the University.“The university is not functioning so we drew three policies that embrace inclusiveness. We want to lead collectively with the students, through the student body meetings which the previous SRCs have failed to do. “We will consult with the students with no discrimination.”

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Healthcare system to improve

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The Health ministry has developed a seven-point programme to guide the country in improving the healthcare system, says Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Alfred Rabashemi Madigele.

“The seven priority areas will serve as a roadmap and a guardian angel towards improving the overall healthcare system and increasing access to health care while fighting the burden of disease that confronts us,” said Madigele at Masa Square Hotel on Tuesday.

The focal areas include decentralisation; Universal Health Coverage, Tertiary Care, Strategic leveraging on the Private sector; Supply Chain; Research as well as Staff welfare and accountability.
Point-one of the seven priority areas according to Dr Madigele is about empowering the District Health Management Teams (DHMTs) and transforming them into fully fledged Regional Health Authorities.

“In this case, they will be rationalised from 27 to 18 and have the authority to hire A and B Scales, promote up to C1 and manage micro procurement,” he said. Point two is about improving the quality of healthcare services. “The main causes of mortality and their risk factors in Botswana are Primary Health Care issues,” Dr Madigele said.

He added that “Our efforts for the attainment of Universal Health Coverage should thus focus on: Prevention; Comprehensive screening; Early treatment; and Surveillance at the community.”
This he said, would require revamped grassroots efforts in which adequate numbers of community health workers through partnerships with the non-governmental sector will be deployed as necessary.

According to Dr Madigele, the top five causes of death in Botswana in 2017 were HIV/AIDS, Ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and Diabetes. He said compared to 2007, NCDs among these had increased in burden by an average of 34%. The top five risk factors related to these causes of mortality were unsafe sex; poor diet; high blood pressure; alcohol abuse and tobacco use.

Improving the quality of care, Madigele said will also include the safety and security of patients; attitudes of staff as experienced by patients; time taken in queues either before seeing a health worker or receiving medication and the availability of drugs.

Meanwhile, the health minister revealed that the commissioning of Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) is ongoing with the facility scheduled for opening on April 24th. “This will be a phased approach commencing with some services including paediatric oncology, internal medicine, rheumatology and endocrinology, diagnostic radiology, laboratory services and pharmacy”.

A phased commissioning of SKMTH will reduce overdependence on South Africa for referrals, reduce costs and also institutionalise provision of super specialist services within Botswana.

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