African Court of Appeal rules in favour of HIV positive foreign prisoners receiving free treatment

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Names of patients are seen on syringes at Nkosi's Haven, south of Johannesburg November 28, 2014. Nkosi's Haven provides residential care for destitute HIV-positive mothers and their children, whether HIV-positive or not. Nkosi's Haven is named after Nkosi Johnson, the young AIDS activist who passed away on International Children's Day on June 1, 2001. December 1 is World AIDS Day. Picture taken November 28. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

On Wednesday, the Botswana Court of Appeal rejected a counter appeal by the state government on a judgement passed by the High Court in 2014. It affirmed legal obligation of the government to provide free medical treatment to foreign prisoners with HIV/AIDS. Previously, the foreign prisoners had to pay the cost of their own medication, whereas the government paid for the local inmates.

Two HIV-positive foreign prisoners had moved court against the practice and won the case in 2014. They were backed by the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids (BONELA). The High Court maintained that the current policy was unlawful and that the foreign prisoners must start receiving treatment for free immediately. But the state government appealed against the judgement.

According to legal rights group Southern Africa Litigation Centre or SALC, the court ordered that the directives be implemented right away and that the government must immediately start providing treatment and medication to the foreign prisoners. The unanimous decision was passed by a full bench and held that the policy was against the Prisons Act.

"The judgment marks a decisive victory for public health in Botswana and the region. We look forward to the government taking immediate steps to roll out treatment to those prisoners falling within the treatment gap," the BBC news quoted BONELA’s Phazha Molebatsi as saying. “BONELA remains committed to work with the government to ensure an effective HIV response that respects human rights,"

Advocate Gilbert Marcus SC, Advocate Isabel Goodman, and Tshiamo Rantao of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys represented BONELA.

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