THE Ministry of Health has stepped up efforts to fill the gap left by the closure some New Start Centres around the country by establishing Rapid Testing Sites at health facilities across the country.
Last year, American government funding for seven of the 19 New Start voluntary counselling and testing centres (VCTs) in Namibia was stopped, according to a US Embassy spokesperson.
Five of the centres, namely those at Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Outapi, Katima Mulilo and the BNC centre in Windhoek ceased operations in September last year. The other two New Start Centres whose funding was also stopped, namely Mariental and Otjiwarongo, are now being funded by the Evangelical Lutheran Church AIDS Programme (ELCAP).
Dr Emad Aziz of Intra Health International last year told The Namibian that it was decided that funding be redirected to remote areas of Namibia where the VCTs would play a more important role and where it would provide access to testing and counselling where previously was none.
Dr Justice Gweshe, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme in the Ministry of Health said that Gover has a strategy in place to respond to the closure of the New Start centres.
Gweshe said that the Government had established Rapid Testing Sites at all of its health facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, across the country as well as at faith based organisations. "Most of the facilities across the country are covered, with some regions having more coverage than others," the CMO said.
According to Gweshe, the Rapid Testing Sites would essentially perform the same services as the New Start centres, but that they would be more comprehensive in that if an individual tests positive for HIV, they are immediately referred for counselling and treatment.
The CMO said that where the New Start Centres were community based, the Rapid Testing Sites are facility based, but counselling and testing remains freely available to the public. Gweshe further indicated that the Government started with the establishment of the Rapid Testing Sites as far back as 2005, but has recently increased the rate at which they were set up.
The US Embassy spokesperson said that the funding for the New Start centres had not been stopped, but redirected.
"The change in approach has been necessitated by the changes in the dynamic of the disease. We now have a mixed model approach, which involves some of the New Start centres, mobile testing and counselling units as well as a door-to-door approach," the spokesperson said.
According to the US Embassy spokesperson, the closure of a number of New Start Centres has not left a void, and there is a very dynamic outreach programme in place. "Due to changes in the disease, we have gone for a strategy which will have a greater public health impact," the spokesperson said.