Barriers to an HIV free generation
New child infections in Botswana and HIV stigma remain barriers to ending HIV infections
The national HIV estimates of 2022 indicates that new child infections are still being reported in Botswana.
This was revealed at the World AIDS Day commemoration by Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane who said this is disturbing.
“In terms of the control of HIV transmission from mother to child, though Botswana has become one of the first high HIV burdened countries to be certified for being on the ‘path to elimination’ of vertical transmission of HIV in 2021, it shows that children continue to be born with HIV,” he said.
He explained that this situation arises from HIV positive mothers who may never have received AntiRetroviral Therapy, mothers who may have dropped off Anti-Retroviral Therapy, or mothers who were initially HIV negative but contracted the virus either during pregnancy or breast feeding,” he explained. Expectant mothers were therefore requested to be more diligent during this phase and protect their unborn children from contracting HIV as there are possible measures in place to curb this. Furthermore, Tsogwane highlighted that human rights barriers which include stigma and discrimination, violence, as well as negative social attitudes, continue to contribute to vulnerability to HIV among key populations, and limit their access to prevention, testing, treatment, and care services.
He noted that although Botswana generally has a protective legal and policy environment towards all citizens, including People Living with HIV, stigma and discrimination towards people seeking HIV services continue to have a negative impact on the fight against HIV. The findings of the 2021 Stigma Index survey indicate that a total of 10.2 percent of People Living with HIV reported having suffered from internal stigma, with men reporting a higher level of 12.6 percent compared to women at nine percent.
“We should in this regard, recognise that the full achievement of the fasttrack targets to fighting HIV can never be possible without addressing human rights barriers to accessing HIV and general health services by all citizens,” said Tsogwane. He has however said that he was very optimistic that the Civil Society Organisations will continue exploring new ways of taking services to the people, thereby charting the way to helping the country reach the overall goal of eliminating AIDS as a public health threat by the year 2030.
The most common form of internal stigma suffered by People Living with HIV was found to be the inability to disclose one’s HIV positive status, feeling guilty for having contracted the virus, as well as a general feeling of shame and worthlessness.
Government departments such as the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency, in this instance, leverage on the proximity of civil society to communities, making it easy to extend the necessary services to those in need.