THE Botswana High Court on Friday ordered the government to provide anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to HIV-positive foreign prisoners at the state's expense.
The government of Botswana has been denying jailed foreigner access to ARVs arguing it could not afford to dispense the life-saving drugs to all prisoners.
Botswana however provides the drugs to all its citizens.
Two Zimbabweans who are serving prison sentences in Botswana took the government to court over the matter.
In its landmark ruling, the High Court said the denial of ARV treatment to foreign prisoners violates their constitutional rights.
It added that denying foreign prisoners ARVs is unjustifiable under Botswana law.
The court added that all prisoners should get ARVs to prevent them from being infected by opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis.
The Zimbabweans were represented by the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALAC).
Cindy Kelemi of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS said the court ruling affirmed that the "government is legally obligated to immediately provide life-saving ARV treatment to foreign prisoners living with HIV".
"The court further affirmed that providing ARV treatment to all prisoners who need it is critical to effectively address HIV," she said.
Priti Patel, the deputy director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), commended the court ruling.
"This landmark decision not only makes clear Botswana's legal obligations with respect to providing access to treatment, but also highlights the important public health reasons for providing prisoners with ARV treatment regardless of their citizenship," Patel said.
"These include preventing HIV transmission in prisons and ensuring other prisoners are not more susceptible to opportunistic infections."
There have been reports of Botswana authorities harshly treating foreigners, particularly illegal Zimbabweans caught in that country.
Foreigners who are caught without valid papers are often taken to the tribal chief where they are lashed.