Gaborone, 18 March – In another important legal victory for human rights in Botswana, the High Court in Gaborone yesterday ordered the government to provide HIV treatment to all non-citizen prisoners.
Prior to the court order, the government supplied non-citizen prisoners with treatment for opportunistic infections but not for HIV – leading to a significant deterioration in their health. Non-citizen prisoners were expected to pay for HIV treatment themselves.
“The order is a significant victory for the rights of people living with HIV in Botswana since it makes it clear that all prisoners are entitled to free HIV treatment regardless of origin,” said Cindy Kelemi, the Executive Director of Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), which sued the government to secure treatment along with two foreign prisoners living with HIV. “This order will not only save the lives of foreign prisoners living with HIV, but it will also help to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.”
The two prisoners and BONELA argued that the denial of critical medical treatment to non-citizen prisoners violated their fundamental rights, which were guaranteed under Botswana’s Constitution.
In addition, they used current medical evidence to show that not only would their lives be at risk without HIV treatment but that other prisoners would also be at greater risk of contracting HIV and other opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis.
“The order will have to be immediately implemented by government and will ensure that the government meets its obligations under the Botswana Constitution and under international and regional law,” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which has been assisting in the matter. “More importantly, it shows that the government has no legitimate justification for putting prisoners’ lives at serious risk by denying them HIV treatment.”
The government, which has been providing free treatment to Botswanan citizens living with HIV in prison, failed to file papers opposing the application by the two prisoners and BONELA, which resulted in the High Court issuing the order.