Imagine if we were to live in a nation without young people. Though they are future leaders, what are we doing to ensure that the youth live long and healthy lives?
This week, I would like to discuss how we as a nation can ensure a healthy future for our young people by supporting them to test for HIV and begin treatment when they test HIV-positive. Botswana is doing a great job in providing free HIV testing and treatment in every district, enabling us to achieve the Global UNAIDS 90-90-90 Goals by 2020. These goals are that 90 percent of people living with HIV should be diagnosed; 90 percent of diagnosed people should be on anti-retroviral treatment, and 90 percent people in treatment should maintain viral suppression.
In June 2016, former President Ian Khama introduced the Treat All initiative, which allows any citizen who tests HIV positive to immediately enrol on treatment. This initiative is also being implemented in many other countries where it is called Test and Treat, or Universal Treatment. Treat All gives us the best out of life.
Those who are diagnosed with HIV these days can benefit immediately, unlike before when someone had to wait for their CD4 count to decline below 350 before accessing treatment (this decline showed that their immune system was being damaged and often would lead to serious illness). With Treat All, one is able to stay healthy and fit, and can continue doing all of their daily activities.
With Treat All, being HIV positive does not mean you will be ill, or lose weight, or have other visible symptoms. Treat All also preserves good health by reducing chances of getting opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. When someone is newly diagnosed with HIV, they often struggle with the decision to disclose their status to others.
I don’t believe that everyone who has HIV must “go public” and tell the world about their status, but it is important that everyone accepts themselves as a first step. We are living in an era where many people know their HIV status, but some have avoided testing and do not know their status. In order to help these people who need to find the courage to test and accept themselves, I have joined this new initiative called the Treat All Champions.
As a Treat All Champion, I am here as the backbone of the youth who are either infected or affected by HIV. My mission is to reach those who haven’t tested before, or who have stopped testing regularly. I will also be supporting those who need to begin treatment and achieve viral suppression.
It is painful to see some who can’t enjoy the benefits of treatment just because they haven’t accepted themselves and are stigmatizing themselves. Ignorance is killing our ability to understand many things. We still have people in the health sector, health care workers and patients, who still lack important information on HIV-related issues.
I believe as a nation, we can do better to improve health literacy, and HIV treatment literacy, but it is also important that everyone strives to educate themselves about health issues. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s upon us, the youth, to take full charge of our future – we are tomorrow’s leaders. The future of this country is determined by us, so let’s wise up and do the right thing. Let’s not only focus on the country’s future, but our own, too. Let’s take full responsibility for it. Together we can make it.
U=U campaign packaging a headache for BHP, Ministry
While there is no denying the proven science that an HIV positive person whose HIV viral load cannot be detected cannot transmit it to an HIV negative person, it is how that message is packaged and delivered to the public that is proving to be a difficulty.
This is according to the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) Dr Joseph Makhema.Internationally, the Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign, has gained ground as scientific consensus has united around the concept that being undetectable means being unable to transmit HIV. The campaign has been endorsed by more than 350 HIV organisations from 34 countries, including leading scientific and medical organisations such as the International AIDS Society (IAS), UNAIDS, and the British HIV Association (BHIVA).
By taking HIV treatment consistently and on time, the HIV virus in the blood (also known as viral load) and other bodily fluids gets to undetectable levels. The drugs work by controlling the replication of HIV in the body by reducing the virus’ ability to make copies of itself.
“The drugs slow down the damage that the virus does to the immune system and allow people to live long, productive lives like everyone else without succumbing to the disease. These drugs are tremendously valuable in giving an excellent quality of life and preventing HIV transmission. There is absolutely no doubt that HIV treatment has revolutionised AIDS,” Dr Makhema explained.
However, he said for now BHP and the Health Ministry are still looking at the context and messaging of U=U and how to package it for the public. This, he explained is because, there are situations whether of illness, for example if someone has flu, they can get an exacerbation of viral rebound.
Or somebody gets a gastro intestinal disorder and they have diarrhoea or vomiting, they cannot keep the medication in their system. This would mean they are not fully able to keep the virus fully supressed and they can rebound.
“So we really don’t know at this point in time, we really need to have research done so that we are able to know how we are going to package and share the U=U messaging with the general public,” stated Dr Makhema.
According to Dr Makhema, the only time he would ever give anyone the go ahead to have unprotected sex is only if there was a test where before each sexual act, a person can check their viral load.
Until then he insists on condom use even with the other HIV prevention tools currently available like Safe Male Circumcision and more recently, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
“While we have got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic, it’s important how we package that information so that our people really understand how they work,” Dr Makhema said.
Citing the condom as an example, Dr Makhema said that new infections are still high even though condoms are cheap, readily available and have been proven to be over 99 percent effective if used correctly at not only preventing HIV infection but also other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Overall, Dr Makhema said there was need for clear guidance on how individuals should be advised on using “treatment as prevention” as a safer sex option and this should be combined with renewed efforts to encourage condom use.
BNF’s prodigal son, Koosaletse is back
As 2019 is a year of the country’s General Elections, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) aspiring parliamentary candidate for Kanye North Constituency, Otlaadisa Koosaletse advises Batswana to be serious with their votes and vote legislators who will represent them well.
Koosaletse will be contesting for the area with the Botswana Democratic Party candidate, Thapelo Letsholo. The Midweek Sun reporter, Onneile Setlalekgosi interviewed the UDC candidate.
Q. Good Day Rre Koosaletse. Kindly share your political background.
A. I started politics at a very young age around the1970’s. I became instrumental in forming Botswana National Front (BNF) youth chapter which was called Botswana Youth Federation in 1976-1977 in Lobatse.
My breakthrough in politics was in 1994, when there were problems within the BNF. I ran for position of area MP under the opposition ticket and won comfortably. When BNF split in 1998 I left with others to form Botswana Congress Party. In 2001 I was elected second president of the BCP, which I led for four years.
Q. Why did you decide to stand for Kanye North Constituency?
A. One of the reasons I stood for the constituency is that I have a general belief that the whole area has been neglected by the ruling party for a long period. The culture of side-lining developments has triggered me to stand for the constituency.
Q. You are contesting to be a legislator representing Kanye North. In your view what are the duties of an area MP and what should your constituents expect from your representation?
A. Duties of the area MP involve being able to live closer to the constituents so that you are able to address their problems. There is an issue of developments and distribution of services, it is sad that there’s special economic zones and there is none in the area I am representing.
Special economic zones can foster and nurture developments which can create jobs. I will ensure that the area gets a fair share budget of the developments. Kanye North has no access roads, Moshana, Lekgoloboto, Ntlhantlhe and other surrounding areas are not connected to the clinics or schools, and the role of the area MP is to fully represent constituents in all aspects.
Q. What are the national priority issues you would want to take to parliament?
A.Issue of corruption, if we do not fight corruption in this country, we will end up being like any other republic that were once rich but now poor. I believe in the levelling of the playing field in politics, I think it is time that Botswana joins other 14 SADC countries which have political party funding.
It is sad that Botswana with its economy and Zambia are the only two countries in SADC without political party funding and that deprives people of good representation from their MPs because of financial instability if it does not happen, it will end up in whoever being financially stable going to parliament even when they are not right candidates.
The other priority is agro-based, that is our produce from the field. I do not believe in food security, I believe in food self-sufficiency, Batswana should be able to produce their own food.
Q. There has been an outcry from the Kanye community that they need a hospital. Do you think Kanye needs a hospital and if so why?
A. Yes, Kanye needs a new hospital. The old hospital (Kanye Adventist Day Hospital) has no room for expansion and it cannot accommodate the growing Kanye population anymore.
Even if the government can pump money into the hospital, there is no way it can ever expand due to many buildings near it. My contention is to fight for a district hospital if it happens that I win during the upcoming elections.
Q. What is your view on corruption and institutions put in place to fight it?
A. Corruption has been rampant in the country. Agencies put in place to fight corruption are now after petty issues such as arresting people for similar vehicle number plates, than focusing on fighting bigger issues of corruption such as economic crime.
Q. There has been a general problem of youth unemployment, how are you prepared to address it?
A. Unemployment is a very serious issue, but our economy is a jobless economy. The way to fight youth unemployment is not a way to throw a carrot at the youths and say they can all do tenders. I do not think enough has been done to help the youth. Even the shopping complexes are not youth friendly as they are expensive to rent.
Things have to be changed first. The economy does not cater for the youth. There are many graduates and skilled people and Botswana is not fully known in exporting skilled labour to other countries. Youth are exploited in such a way that at times multitudes of the youths compete for one tender job, which only generates revenue for the government by buying the tenders. But I am going to address it seriously if I get to parliament.
Q. Education results have been declining throughout the country, how are you going to address the low pass rate in your area?
A. It is very serious that at this time we still have declining standards in Education results, by now the country should have learnt from the past mistakes which I believe will bring good results in Education.
I will ensure Education is taken seriously within the village, parents should be able to understand academic strength of children and make sure they offer them support where possible.
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