The Botswana Congress Party Youth League (BCPYL) has written to President Ian Khama requesting him not to sign the Public Health Bill into law
Parliament approved the bill towards the end of April this year.
The Public Health Bill of 2012 has been criticised by a number of Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) including Botswana Network of Ethics and Law (BONELA) for some of its “discriminatory” clauses. The bill seeks to replace the current Public Health Act that has been in operation since 1981. Among other things, the bill has been criticised for giving dental practitioners the power to test patients for HIV before performing dental surgery. Clause 209 (3) of the bill states that, “Where in the opinion of a medical practitioner, the surgical or dental procedure is not urgently required in respect of a person, a medical practitioner may require the person to undergo an HIV test before carrying out that procedure.”
The bill also seeks to make HIV/AIDS a notifiable disease; meaning that the director of health services shall be notified of the HIV infected people. Another contention in the bill is that it requires HIV infected individuals to inform their sexual partners of their HIV positive status if they have tested. Clause 116 (2) reads, “A person who is aware of being infected with HIV shall inform in advance any sexual contact or caregiver or with whom sharp instruments are shared of that fact.” In a letter dated 13 May 2013, signed by BCPYL president Dithapelo Keorapetse, the youth league appeals to Khama to consider the admission by his health minister Rev. Dr John Seakgosing at the National Aids Council (NAC) meeting that NAC had not been given the opportunity to comment and discuss the Bill.
For that reason the minister is said to have undertaken to call a workshop to discuss and debate the Bill. “Thus the discussion is likely to be of no relevance since the Bill has been debated in parliament, and worse still, if His Excellency were to assent to it. We humbly request His Excellency to exercise the constitutional powers vested in him for the good of the country by promoting and encouraging the culture of legislating with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The letter was handed to the Private Secretary to the President Brigadier George Tlhalerwa in May who promised to hand it over to Khama and get back to them thereafter regarding the response. However, when contacted for comment, Tlhalerwa confirmed receiving the letter but would not be drawn into any further discussions.
“I have received the letter and whether or not a response was sent is none of your business. The Office of the President is not obliged to discuss anything about that letter with you,” Tlhalerwa told this publication. The youth league decried making follow-ups on the letter to no avail. They fear that should their request be ignored, Khama could sign the Bill into law while not enough consultation with the public and the NAC has been made. BONELA has also once written to the president complaining about the same Bill.