Botswana: Covid-19 Impacts HIV/Aids Services

Gaborone — Gaborone District AIDS Coordinator, Mr Oageng Batshani, says HIV/AIDS still presents as a problem in the society and people are urged to continue practicing infection prevention methods such as using condoms consistently and correctly.

In an in an interview on recently, Mr Batshani further stressed the need for people to know their status, be faithful to one partner and those that are positive should enroll for ARV therapy at the nearest health facility.

He said people living with HIV (PLWHA) have not been spared the wrath of COVID-19, which had proved to be more dangerous to people with underlying conditions.

"People living with HIV/AIDS have compromised immune systems due to opportunistic infections and sometimes due to the side effects of the ARV therapy, so in the midst of this pandemic, we see PLWHA also losing their lives due to COVID-19 complications" he said.

Mr Batshani pointed out that COVID-19 had had a significant impact on HIV health services, saying that they were experiencing a slight increase in the number patients who default on getting ARV treatment from facilities.

This he said was due to the fact that some of their clients stayed far away in areas that may require a permit for them to come to Gaborone. He said some of them had decided to go to other clinics that were nearer to them, while others were defaulting.

He said most had difficulty in accessing the travelling permits and therefore ended up not turning up for appointments.

Mr Batshani said experience had shown that the most effective strategies to spread the message of HIV was through mass campaigns amongst other things, which have now stopped due to COVID-19 restrictions.

He also stated that school health programmes had also been interrupted due to the health protocols, adding that they therefore anticipated high numbers of teenage pregnancy and consequently an increase in the number of new infections amongst both school going and out of school youth teenage girls.

Mr Batshani stated that there had been a significant budget cut, which negatively impacted planned district activities, such as campaigns, AIDS Day Commemoration, saying however that 'the budget naturally and rightfully so, has been diverted to the most pressing issue at the moment, which is COVID-19'.

He said there had seen service providers, especially health service providers, that are also key stakeholders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, being overwhelmed by the workload brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes it difficult to implement some of the planned activities because of lack of manpower.

Meanwhile, Mr Batshani said some COVID-19 restrictions, such as limited hours for alcohol sale, may have a positive on the spread of HIV.

"The truth is alcohol abuse contributes to the spread of HIV" he stated, adding that even though they do not have the statistics, they anticipate a reduction in the number of new infections in the general public, due to the fact that people were not allowed to gather and drink alcohol.

He also said due to less movement owing to curfew restrictions, there were minimal cases of casual sexual interactions, due to risks of contracting COVID-19 from strangers or from multiple partners.

Mr Batshani further said they have realised that some people who had tested positive for HIV, had voluntarily registered to be initiated on ARV due to fear of having compromised immune systems, which would lead to them being vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications.

He said during COVID-19, it has been a challenge to offer HIV and AIDS services and activities, such as condom distribution, which are key in prevention.

He however said the Ministry of Health and Wellness continues to liaise with other stakeholders such as NAPHA, to ensure that HIV and AIDS messages continue to be shared on different media platforms like radio, TV and newspapers, as well as the use of technology, where possible, especially for the youth.

Mr Batshani indicated that TB Preventive therapy was back and everybody, who tested HIV positive and had not been in the programme for at least two years, was eligible to enroll.

Furthermore, he indicated that facilities in Gaborone also offer pre-exposure prophylaxis, for instance in the event where a discordant couple want to have a child, saying the HIV negative partner would start the pre-exposure treatment, to prevent the transmission of HIV between them, until they achieved conception.

Source : BOPA

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