Soraya Mentoor and Tebogo Gareitsanye

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has implemented a programme which includes the Development of a Preliminary National Intellectual Property (IP) policy to strengthen its advocacy on IP and case studies on access to cervical cancer medicines.

The latter focused on women living in three districts of South East – Gaborone, Boteti Sub- District and Tutume Sub – District. The programme was implemented from 2019 to 2020.

Furthermore, in order to inform advocacy, BONELA conducted case studies on the experiences of women living with HIV when accessing cervical cancer medicine in the three prioritised districts.

The case studies indicated that woman in Gaborone had better access to cervical cancer medicines in cases where the Government of Botswana has outsourced cancer treatment to Gaborone Private Hospital. However, monitoring of the services provided, including ensuring continuity of care and that medicines prescribed by the private health care provider are available in public health facilities, has been a challenge.

Participating HIV positive women in Tutume and Boteti on the other hand revealed that access to cervical cancer screening was a challenge. Some women could only rely on Pap Smears, with results taking long to be issued because specimens were sent to the national laboratory in Gaborone.

In this regard, some the women reported that by the time they got their results, their condition had worsened. Furthermore, given that some of the women were far from referral hospitals offering cervical cancer treatment and medicines, they incurred out of pocket expenses related to accommodation and meals while away from home.

From the forgoing, it is apparent that the need for a greater intersection between the right to health, availability and accessibility to essential medicines is urgent. Therefore, the same attention, urgency and commitment needs to be given to existing diseases like HIV, TB, Cancer and other chronic conditions.

This can happen through issuing compulsory licenses to make essential medicines easily available in the country while negotiating with established pharmaceutical companies to issue licenses for use of their patented products which are essential medicines.

The need to build the capacity of local pharmaceutical companies to produce quality medicines locally, cannot be overemphasised.

* Soraya Mentoor is Grants Manager at the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa while Tebogo Gareitsanye is a Policy and Legal Coordinator at the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA)