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BOTSWANA: Red tape stymies media spreading anti-AIDS message

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Journalists call on govt to provide timely information about its AIDS strategies

GABORONE, 26 May (PLUSNEWS) - Journalists in Botswana say the government's lack of cooperation with the media is threatening to undermine ongoing efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The diamond-rich country has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world - over 35 percent of its 1.6 million people - and according to UNAIDS, the epidemic is still gaining ground.

While there have been some successes in the decade-long response to the disease, Botswana has been unable to keep pace with the number of new infections. It is already distributing ARVs to all citizens in need of them, and promoting routine testing at all public health facilities.

But reporters allege that it is difficult to gauge the success of the anti-AIDS strategy because of the reluctance of the authorities to release information to the media.

Earlier this week, Khumbulani Kholi, a journalist working for an independent weekly newspaper, told PlusNews he had yet to receive an official response to questions faxed to the health ministry two weeks ago, about the number of people who have passed through the routine testing system since its introduction in January 2004.

"For two weeks I have been tossed from one government official to another. There is nothing controversial about my questions - I only want to know if there have been some successes in the programme," he explained.

Mbongeni Mguni, news editor at The Mirror newspaper, pointed out that when journalists eventually did receive a response from the government, they were unable to raise any further questions because of the time lag: any further questions would also have to be faxed, thanks to the red tape.

Some reporters complain that government responses are often marked 'confidential'. "How can such information be deemed confidential when it is for public consumption?" asked Moketsi Motsumi, an international correspondent based in Selebi Phikwe, a mining town in central Botswana.

The main sources of government information are speeches made by ministers at official functions, in the National Assembly, or on tours of their constituencies.

While some journalists have been calling for the government to be more forthcoming, others have argued that the media are not doing not enough to destigmatise the virus.

"Several journalists have died since the first identified AIDS death in 1985, yet AIDS is not mentioned, either in obituaries or at the funerals. It is unclear how the media can report accurately and openly on a disease that is still shrouded in mystery among the very people tasked with disseminating vital information," Kudakwashe Makudo, the editor of a monthly magazine based in the capital, Gaborone, remarked to PlusNews.

A recent survey by the Media Institute of Southern Africa revealed that only two of the 10 newspapers operating in Botswana had a policy for HIV-positive employees in place.

Anti-AIDS organisations have also raised concerns over the local media's approach to the disease.

Patrick Bantsi, from the Maun AIDS Counselling Centre in northwestern Botswana, said media reports failed to convey the benefits of testing to the population.

"The media should tell its audience that HIV/AIDS is a manageable chronic disease. In many African countries, many people want to know their [HIV] status, but the facilities are not readily available - in Botswana, it is the opposite," Bantsi commented.

Calvin Morwaeng, a programme officer at the Botswana Christian AIDS Intervention Programme, which also offers counselling, said local journalists were insufficiently trained to report on HIV/AIDS issues.

He recommended greater cooperation between the media and grassroots HIV/AIDS organisations as a way of raising awareness among journalists.


Recent BOTSWANA Reports
Routine HIV testing not as straightforward as it sounds,  31/Jan/06
Baby steps in bringing down teen pregnancy,  10/Nov/05
The ABC of Masturbation,  5/Jul/05
Tenofovir trials to start soon - despite controversy,  30/Mar/05
Anti-AIDS drugs for armed forces,  10/Mar/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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