Gov’t must provide ARVs to all inmates

SHARE   |   Sunday, 20 July 2014   |   By Commentary

We applaud the decision of the High court made Friday compelling government of Botswana to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to foreign inmates held in local prisons. Be it for medical or moral reasons, we applaud the decision as we shudder to imagine what the contrary could mean for other prisoners incarcerated in the same facilities. The World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency, places high premium over people’s health around the world. WHO’s primary health care objective is to promote health, human dignity, and enhanced quality of life for all.

Botswana, being a member of the United Nations it would be easy for one to think she subscribes to its goals and visions. It could be to a certain extent not legally binding but for goodwill sake that’s what one would expect.  No citizen in the world expects to be denied this fundamental right even when they are not in their country of origin, as this could dictate whether they live or die; matter of life of death if you wish. We need not remind government of Botswana that she is bound by the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, even as we do not have local laws to enforce such.

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So it is for this reason that when news that Botswana was denying foreign inmates the right to access free Anti-Retro viral (ARV) treatment in local prisons it provoked mixed reactions from people. While for some (including the government it would seem) couldn’t be bothered and steadfastly maintained that government is doing the right thing to deny aliens the lifesaving medication. These poor HIV positive inmates to them should not be afforded the same treatment extended to their local counterparts. Saving a penny to the local folks was better than saving lives. However to some they could not even stomach the thought of a sick soul passing a day without treatment.  Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) a local human rights organisations falls in the latter. That government failed to bring forth evidence to support their argument that it is expensive to provide ARVs to foreign inmates, or at the least to juxtapose such cost against that of treating opportunistic infections borders on malice and is outright disingenuous. We need not dwell into the risk associated with crowding HIV positive foreign inmates, who are denied ARVs, with other healthy citizen inmates, as even a blind man can see the repercussions. 

BONELA dragged Botswana government to court over a year back demanding that foreign inmates be given the same treatment to access ARV treatment. Although the case dragged in court for a little while, justice has finally been served as High Court on Friday ordered the government to provide anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to HIV-positive, foreign prisoners at state expense. The court held that the denial of ARV treatment to foreign prisoners violated their constitutional rights. It is equally ruthless and heartless, we submit. 

Now this could serve as good news to all. While it must be appreciated that the state still enjoy the right to appeal the outcome, it would be unfortunate if they do, for this is indeed justice served for the poor HIV positive inmates who are likely to die should they be denied access to ARV treatment. In reaching its decision, the court highlighted the importance of ensuring that all prisoners have access to ARV treatment, not only for their own health, but also to protect other prisoners from acquiring HIV and other opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis. The above point wraps it all, if they can’t do it for the foreign inmates at least think about how it will affect the health of their fellow Batswana inmates.

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BONELA must be commended for a job well done.