Botswana must give HIV drugs to non-citizen prisoners

By Richard Lee | February 07th, 2014

The Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV (BONELA) and two prisoners have filed a case in the Botswana High Court seeking an order mandating the government to provide non-citizen prisoners with life-saving HIV treatment.

Currently, Botswana provides HIV treatment to prisoners who happen to be Botswana citizens, but requires non-citizen prisoners to pay for the treatment themselves. Botswana does provide these prisoners with treatment for their opportunistic infections.

“It is irrational and counter-productive to refuse to treat the HIV of foreign prisoners,” said Cindy Kelemi, the Executive Director of BONELA, which filed a supporting affidavit in the case. “The current policy must be changed because it ultimately increases the State’s medical costs, puts the health of other prisoners at risk, increases the likelihood that non-citizen prisoners with HIV will have higher viral loads and will therefore be more infectious to others, and also puts them at higher risk of drug resistance.”

The challenge, supported by medical evidence, argues that the denial of critical medical treatment to non-citizen prisoners violates the fundamental rights of the prisoners guaranteed under the Constitution. The papers further argue that without HIV treatment not only will the prisoners’ lives be at risk, but based on the current medical evidence, it will also place other prisoners at risk of HIV and other opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis.

“The denial of life-saving treatment to prisoners solely on the basis of their citizenship flies in the face of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Botswana Constitution and by Botswana’s legal obligations under international and regional law,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which is assisting on the case. “There is no legitimate justification for putting the prisoners’ lives at serious risk.”

The High Court is expected to hear arguments in the matter in 2014.

BONELA and the two non-citizen prisoners are represented by Gilbert Marcus SC, Isabel Goodman, and Tshiamo Rantao.

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