The emergence of COVID-19 has burdened the health system and made the fight against HIV/AIDS heavier. However, the results of the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS V) are expected to enhance policy-making and planning.
Acting National Coordinator at National Aids and Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA), Robert Selato says BAIS V survey has incorporated the COVID-19 pandemic and accommodated options for survey respondents to indicate for example, that they could not access health facilities because of lockdowns. The survey, according to Selato also has a portion on COVID-19 prevention and case management. Botswana government through the Ministry of Health and Wellness, NAHPA, Statistics Botswana, the US government, the University of Maryland-Baltimore, and other cooperating partners, are working together to implement the survey.
BAIS V is the fifth survey in a series of HIV/AIDS impact surveys conducted in the country, which has been an early leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Lead investigator, Dr. Manhattan Charurat from the University of Maryland Baltimore could not be more proud of Botswana. He said during the launch that Botswana is a global leader and model in the HIV/AIDS response and one of the first countries to adopt the HIV focus survey as an effective approach to the fight against the pandemic through the first BAIS in 2001.
“Botswana is also one of the first to adopt the ‘treat all’ approach as a way to fight the disease”, he said, adding that with Botswana surpassing the UNAIDS 90: 90: 90 target, BAIS V will provide the true picture of where the country is in relation to the pandemic control and show where new infections are occurring. “This information is crucial in helping Botswana and the US government to direct resources more efficiently to attain full pandemic control”, Dr Charurat said. Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Edwin Dikoloti said since the first AIDS Impact survey, Botswana has seen growth in such surveys with current surveys which take place every four to five years incorporating scientific vigour, representativeness, ethical considerations and the use of advanced technology.
“We have come from using paper-based questionnaires, anonymous HIV testing, to the use of smart phones to capture information and offering HIV testing only to those ready to receive their HIV results and link the positive cases to care”, Dikoloti said. Dr Dikoloti revealed that Botswana recently expanded antiretroviral treatment to include non-citizens, so that all PLHIV can access treatment for free at any public health facility. “Initiatives such as these draw us ever closer to ending the epidemic, but there is still more work to do”, he said, adding that Botswana should be proud to be a part of BAIS V and to continue the fight to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic and ensuring the availability of critical information to guide planning and decision making.
The US government, Centers for Disease Control Prevention and PEPFAR have been instrumental in providing the needed support to carry out the survey. “It is because of our collaboration, that we have gained a more precise understanding of HIV and AIDS in Botswana and have been able to apply our resources wisely and with maximum effort to achieve the goals of Botswana’s Third National Strategic Framework for HIV (NSF III) and the UNAIDS 95-95-95 Fast-Track initiative of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” Dikoloti said.