- Fears are abound in Botswana that the country may be facing major public health crisis due to decision to exclude foreigners from free medical services, following a High Court landmark case in which a Zimbabwean multiple drug resistant tuberculosis patient is contesting his deportation from Botswana.
Immigrants are barred from government free public health system and rules cannot be bent, even when they are suffering from highly infectious TB, according to rules in Botswana.
Illegal Zimbabwean immigrants who mainly do not work, reportedly live underground, fearful of being forcefully returned home if found out by immigration officers and cannot access government free medical support.
There are fears that thousands of them may be infected with TB and have been forced underground where their virus is festering into Multiple Drug Resistant TB, which could spread to Batswana nationals.
Details emerging from case of Mthandazo Sibanda challenging Botswana's decision to deport him, have uncovered a hidden and shocking world inhabited by distressed Zimbabwean immigrants, who are not receiving free health services.
Evidence led in court has shown how Mr Sibanda tried to pay for TB treatment out of his pocket, but ultimately gave up after he was prescribed the wrong medication and left to manage his own dosage.
The move is in violation of guidelines outlined in direct observation treatment, the standard and practice for persons afflicted with TB.
Before Mr Sibanda was reportedly bundled by police and placed in a Gaborone Prisons clinic, he was wandering somewhere in Mahalapye, where treatment was discontinued and it is feared may have infected others.
Health officials told media that his case is far from unique. They explained that while he had residence papers, most Zimbabwean immigrants are illegal and have sunk out of view of normal society.
They are said to be staying in crowded squats where up to 15 people share one small room and keep their TB status underground with them.
Officials have expressed concern that government is keen to limit foreigners to emergency-only public health facilities use, which will simply push TB problem further underground.
"Closing down access to public health services is a worrying development, and, particularly in terms of TB, has serious public health implications," they said.
There aren't any official figures on numbers of Zimbabwean migrants with TB, but health workers say cases are on the increase.
Figures from ministry of health show that TB infections in Botswana are on rise, especially on wake of HIV/AIDS pandemic.
With number of illegal immigrants growing in wake of Zimbabwe's political and economic meltdown, there are fears that imported TB virus is being kept underground where it is festering into multiple drug resistant TB posing a public hazard to Batswana who come into contact with infected immigrants.
Mr Sibanda has filed an urgent application before Justice Abednico Tafa challenging ministry of health to show-cause why he could not be released from the prison clinic to a medical facility preferably Princess Marina hospital where he could be kept in isolation for his protection and Batswana.
He also wants ministry to explain why he cannot be provided with the necessary multi drug resistance TB treatment, pending outcome of appeal.
Mr Sibanda also challenges the attorney general, health ministry and department of immigration to show why they should not be ordered to pay costs of application on an attorney client scale.
He has meanwhile appealed against immigration department's decision to deport him arguing, that he was improperly declared a prohibited immigrant because he was diagnosed with TB.
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