Govt dodging question on the cost of providing ARVs to foreign inmates

In an ongoing court battle between foreign prisoners and the Botswana Government where foreign inmates want to be provided with free antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and the Government is opposing, the issue of costs is at the centre of the storm. Government attorneys have argued that it will suffer financial hardships and prejudice if it is forced to provide ARVs to foreign prisoners. It has, however, never been disclosed how much it will cost nor how many people will need the drugs. A court ordered seven months ago that foreign inmates be provided with ARVs.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) Principal Public Relations Officer, Doreen Motshegwa, when contacted to provide information on HIV statistics in Botswana Prisons said the Ministry does not have any records that specify how many people have tested positive and those on treatment including foreign inmates. “We do not have any classification specific for prisoners, but our numbers are for the general population. You can try with the Prisons Services or National Aids Coordinating Agency (NACA),” she said.

NACA National Coordinator, Grace Muzila stated that they have done a survey and passed the results to the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security where the Public Relations Officer, Samma Tabudi referred this reporter to the Commissioner of Prisons. Senior Superitendent Wamorena Ramolefhe, the Public Relations Officer for the Prisons Service,  in response to this publication’s questionnaire said, “Prisoners are provided with HIV and AIDS programmes in line with the Botswana National Policy on HIV and AIDS. HIV testing is voluntary. Please refer to the Ministry of Health for more information regarding this matter.”

In the case in which Government wants Justice Terrence Rannowane to stay the execution of provision of ARVs to foreign inmates, lawyers representing Government, Neo Sharp and Yarona Sharp, told the Gaborone High Court that providing ARVs to foreign inmates was not sustainable.

On August 22, 2014 Justice Bengbame Sechele had ordered that Government should provide two former Zimbabwean prisoners with free ARVs. BONELA lawyer, Tshiamo Rantao, dismissed the arguments about the financial implication of supplying ARVs to foreign inmates. He said there was no single figure referred to in Pula terms in Government’s papers. He said that court has not been shown that there would be economic hardship if ARVs were provided to foreign prisoners. He pleaded with Rannowane to dismiss the application for the stay of execution with costs.