22 August 2014
GABORONE, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) — Botswana government has been ordered to provide anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to HIV-positive foreign prisoners at state expense.
Botswana High Court delivered judgment Friday and brought to end a long legal battle between the government and HIV-positive foreign prisoners in which the government were accused of violating laws and constitution by denial of ARV treatment to foreign prisoners.
Civil society group Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/ AIDS (BONELA), a network of individuals and organizations that promotes a just and inclusive environment to prevent HIV infection has welcomed the decision.
“This court decision has affirmed that the government is legally obligated to immediately provide life-saving ARV treatment to foreign prisoners living with HIV. The court further affirmed that providing ARV treatment to all prisoners who need it is critical to effectively addressing HIV,” said Cindy Kelemi, BONELA’s Executive Director.
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 court further rejected the government’s argument that it did not have adequate funds to provide non-citizen prisoners with ARV treatment, holding that the government had not raised any evidence to support the contention.
In February this year, two Zimbabwean prisoners, under the auspices of BONELA, sued Botswana government at the High Court for refusing to provide them with free ARVs while providing them for free to its citizens.
During the case BONELA argued that by denying foreign inmates ARV treatment government was violating their constitutional right to equality, dignity and non-discrimination. They said the state has a duty to provide for care, support and treatment to all inmates under its responsibility.
BONELA also accused government of adopting a contradictory stance as it refused to provide foreign inmates with ARVs but continued to give them free treatment of opportunistic diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia.
The High Court has ruled in March for the first time that the government should provide foreign inmates with ARVs free of charge, and the government appealed the ruling.
The High Court heard arguments from both parties in June and the Judge reserved judgement in the case.
Botswana is one of the countries which are worst hit by HIV/ AIDS. According to UNAIDS, the country has an estimated adult HIV prevalence among 15-49 year olds of 23 percent, the second highest in the world after Swaziland.
Botswana has invested heavily on fighting the epidemic. It is one of the few countries that has succeeded to provide more than 95 percent of adult and children in need of treatment with HIV treatment.
However, Botswana is facing a rising funding challenge after its classification as an upper middle-income country, resulting in decreasing international donor funds. Botswana’s President Ian Khama said in an earlier occasion that provision of free ARVs is weighing heavily on the government’s budget and would be unsustainable in the long term.