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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 
     
          

Carefree Nurse Frustrates Health Delivery System

Rodrick Mukumbira
Maun, Botswana

Botswana health officials have been testing 170 primary school children for HIV, after a nurse on February 20, threw the country's health delivery system into despair, by using the same syringe to immunise the children against childhood diseases.

The pupils are from Estha 6 Primary School, a village school 230 kilometres north of Maun town in north-western Botswana. Fifty-four of them are in Standard one, while the remaining116 are Standard seven pupils.

Blood samples have been sent to forensic laboratories in the health department in the capital, Gaborone, to find out whether the children have been infected with HIV.

 

In a joint statement on March 5, Mathias Chakalisa and Eric Malole, permanent secretaries for health and local government ministries respectively, said that the male nurse (whose identity has been withheld) apparently refused to listen to school teachers who had asked him to stop the practice.

The statement did not, however, say what action was going to be taken against him.

"The needle used was not even sterilised before re-use, a principle that is normally applied in those areas where there is a shortage of needles.

We must emphasise that re-using needles is against our national health policy," said part of the statement.

It took more than five days before health officials became aware of what had transpired.

"It was already too late to provide prophylaxis," they said, adding, "The matter has been discussed with the parents and they have given their consent for HIV testing." Government experts are also counselling parents and the children involved.

Health regulations call for the use of one needle per person when injections are carried out, in order to minimise the risk of infection.

This has been government policy for several years since the advent of HIV in the country.

Michael Badisa, Principal Education Officer in Maun, said 1,150 children attended Estha 6 Primary. "One of the problems now is that it is known that Standard Seven pupils are sexually active. This could be a problem for the future," he said.

Botswana currently is one of the countries in southern Africa with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS infection.

 

Latest statistics from UNAIDS indicates that 39 percent of the population's 16 to 49 age group are HIV positive.