Sex Worker Rights Group Sisonke Calls For Equitable Distribution Of The COVID vaccine

  • Says 10 illegal immigrants were sent away unvaccinated
  • Queries ill-treatment of ‘illegals’ at vaccination centres


Ten migrant sex workers were sent away from vaccination centres in Gaborone and Mogoditshane unvaccinated because of their migrant status, Mandla Pule, Programme Officer at Sisonke, a sex workers’ rights group, has said.

This is in spite of the government stated policy of vaccinating all eligible people in Botswana, including documented and undocumented migrants. “We believe that there should be equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, including sex workers,” Pule said in interview.

Late last month, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Edwin Dikoloti, told Parliament that vaccines would be provided to everyone in Botswana in order to ensure equity in accordance with the National Health Policy. “The constituents we serve include undocumented migrant sex workers,” Pule said.

“Some of them were recently turned away at different vaccination sites in Mogoditshane, Partial and Gaborone West without being inoculated simply because their visiting days had elapsed, effectively making them illegal immigrants. They say officers on duty at the vaccination sites tore up two of the sex workers’ vaccination cards. But COVID-19 does not discriminate in any respect. Whether you are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen, it affects and infects us all.”

He called on the government to be as consistent in its efforts against COVID-19 as it is in the fight against HIV/Aids. “The government made the decision to provide everyone in Botswana, citizen or non-citizen, with free ARVs and to ensure that everyone has access to HIV treatment in order that people may lead healthy lifestyles for the benefit of public health.”

Minister Dikoloti told Parliament as much recently. “Vaccination of undocumented immigrants will offer protection to the rest of the population,” he said. “Therefore, the government’s policy is to vaccinate all illegible populations, including undocumented migrants.”

The minister was answering a question from the MP for Selebi-Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse, who wanted to know what the government policy is regarding vaccination of non-citizens and if the national vaccination plan accommodates undocumented migrants.

“The National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) for COVID-19 in Botswana is guided by the Public Health Act of 2013, the Expanded Programme on Immunization Policy (EPI) (2016) and the National Health Policy,” Minister Dikoloti answered.

“According to the Botswan EPI policy, in order to ensure equity and social justice in accordance with the National Health Policy, immunization will be provided to eligible populations irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, cultural, political, religious affiliation or geographical location. This will also include populations in refugee camps. Mr Speaker, non-citizens being legal residents of this country are eligible for vaccination according to the phased approach of the NDVP.”

Because of the alleged experience of migrant sex workers, Pule took the opportunity of the interview to call for the right to health to be entrenched in the constitution of the republic.“ The right to health has been relegated to second generation,” he said. “We therefore ask the government to urgently ensure that it is made a first generation right so that it may be called to account when access to healthcare is withheld.”