While infection rates rise sky-high, the debate about condom distribution in Botswana prisons lingers on year after year. Sexual activities between same-sex individuals remain criminalised in Botswana. Our government maintains the unwavering opinion that distributing condoms in prisons would be tantamount to the promotion of illegal activities. But I beg to disagree. Why would Botswana prisons be the only place in the world where incarcerated individuals don’t engage in sexual activities?
Testimonies from previously incarcerated inmates confirm that our prisons are just as much a hotbed of sexual contact between same-sex individuals as any other. Not providing inmates with affordable and effective protection in a high-risk environment is, in fact, a dereliction of duty. It also puts the future sexual partners of these inmates at high risk of contracting STDs outside our prison gates. This type of negligence puts all of us at risk. While each of us should take responsibility for our own sexual health, Botswana is still plagued with one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.
We know some men have sexual contact with each other in Botswana prison. However, they may not continue to do so once back on the outside. Sadly, it’s wives, single women and young girls who are usually most affected and infected on the outside with a range of sexually transmitted diseases that can breed in prison. We have the opportunity to learn from other instances where HIV prevalence has been dramatically reduced in society through effective sexual health campaigns and programmes.
Including prisons in our HIV/AIDS preventative strategy by providing condoms is not promoting immoral behaviour. It is a shrewd move that should be designed to protect all citizens of Botswana. Condoms in high-risk environments would help to curb the spread of HIV and other STDs in prisons and society generally. According to the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), Botswana has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. About 17.6% of the general population is said to be living with the HIV virus.
It’s imperative that Botswana take every opportunity to educate the public about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. We need to eradicate its transmission wherever we find it nationwide. Prevention is indeed better than cure. We must not get bogged down in issues of morality. Our task is not to pass moral judgement but to protect the nation from a deadly and incurable virus, which does not itself discriminate. Botswana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to provide free universal antiretroviral treatment to people living with HIV. We should continue to set an example prompting other nations to follow suit.
Botswana targets HIV awareness and interventions at female sex workers, men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals. Why not prison inmates, too? Condoms are provided for prison officers, said a spokesperson for the Botswana Prison Services, but we do not encourage sexual activity amongst inmates. Prison officers are there to enforce the law, and inmates are monitored 24/7, Wamorena Ramolefe emphasised. There is no sexual activity happening among inmates, and no need to distribute condoms in prisons, he continued. We may have just struck down an old colonial law and legalised homosexuality, but the debate on condoms in Botswana prisons rages on.
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