Botswana court orders government to treat HIV-positive foreign prisoners

Botswana’s Court of Appeal has told that country’s Government that it has a legal obligation to provide foreign prisoners who are HIV-positive with antiretrovirals (ARVs) at the state’s expense.

The government had appealed against a 2014 decision of the High Court, which said the state was legally obliged to treat HIV-positive foreign prisoners.

The Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment by the full bench, ruled that the policy was contrary to the Prisons Act and unlawful, thus affirming the High Court’s decision.

In August 2014, two foreign prisoners and the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) succeeded in a High Court challenge against a government policy refusing to provide HIV-positive foreign prisoners with ARVs.

The High Court held that the policy was unlawful and ordered the government to provide the treatment.

Legal arguments during the appeal were heard last month, following which the Appeal Court has now ordered the immediate provision of free HIV testing and treatment to all HIV positive foreign prisoners on the same terms as citizen prisoners.

“The judgment marks a decisive victory for public health in Botswana and the region,” said Phazha Molebatsi, a BONELA board member.

“We look forward to the government taking immediate steps to roll out treatment to those prisoners falling within the treatment gap.

“BONELA remains committed to work with the government to ensure an effective HIV response that respects human rights.”

Annabel Raw, Health Rights Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which supported the case, said: “The Court of Appeal has affirmed Botswana’s legal duty of care over persons in detention, no matter what their origin.

“The decision’s enforcement will mean access to life-saving treatment for people who are particularly vulnerable to HIV.” GNA

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