ALL New Start HIV counselling and testing centres in Namibia will be closed by next year, says Sarah Fuller, the HIV-AIDS counselling and testing programme manager in the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
This is because of the United States’ plan to slash its donor funding to Namibia for health programmes – especially in the HIV-AIDS field. A spokesperson at the US embassy in Windhoek said his country’s purpose in cutting donor funding is to help Namibia take full responsibility for its HIV programme.
“During the transition period, we will focus our resources on making sure Namibia has the information and expertise needed to direct its HIV programme.”
Also, he said, “the US government, through its Agency for International Development (USAID) and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will remain committed to helping the (Namibian) government increase accessibility to counselling and testing services for all Namibians”.
Namibia has received N$5,7 billion from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) over the past eight years.
For 2012 alone, the country received about N$810 million from Pepfar.
Breaking the silence on the closure of six New Start HIV counselling and testing centres, the spokesperson said that the centres were shut down “after careful consideration of their long-term effectiveness”.
This decision, he said, was taken after consultation with the Namibian government. The six centres that were closed are the Namibia Red Cross Society one at Katima Mulilo, the Evangelical Lutheran Church AIDS programme at Mariental, their programme at Otjiwarongo, the Bernard Nordkamp Centre in Windhoek, the DRC programme in Swakopmund and the Walvis Bay Multipurpose Centre.
The spokesman said it was decided to shut down the centres “in order to pave the way for more effective, sustainable healthcare services. The New Start centres were essential when Namibia first began to scale up its HIV and AIDS intervention programmes, but they do not offer Namibians a long-term solution.”
The approaches to providing comprehensive HIV services after 30 years of the pandemic’s existence have changed, he said. “In order to build on the country’s successes and create the conditions for Namibia to take full ownership of its HIV-AIDS response, we have to spend money wisely and in ways that will help the greatest number of people possible.”
It was established that the stand-alone New Start Centre model is no longer the best way to invest limited resources given the changing needs of the HIV pandemic, he said.
“Namibia’s 2010/11-2015/16 National Strategic Plan identified mobile outreach testing services the best way to improve access to HIV counselling and testing (HCT) and other primary healthcare services. HIV is now a manageable chronic disease. We need to integrate HIV testing and counselling into routine comprehensive health services. This is essential to managing the disease and improving health for Namibians.”
Eleven New Start centres are still in operation. According to the embassy spokesperson, six of the centres are connected to health facilities and five are stand-alone.
In place of the New Start centres, the Ministry of Health and Social Services will adopt a mobile outreach programme that uses “a mixed model approach”, the embassy spokesperson said.
“The mixed model approach will increase the number of people tested, the frequency with which they are tested, provide couples’ counselling, and ensure that those who are HIV positive are enrolled [for] health services.”
According to him, the US government, with Pepfar funding, will provide seven vans for the mobile outreach service in order to support the ministry’s initiative.