23 November 2012

Namibia: No Room for Complacency


The UNAIDS global report on the progress made by Namibia as a nation to drastically roll back HIV/AIDS should not make us complacent in our fight against the pandemic.

The figures look good, but complacency could set us back and reduce to nothingness the billions we have spent to make an impact on this disease that remains incurable.

We should actually redouble our efforts and become more resolute to fight this pandemic of biblical proportions that has caused untold suffering, misery and grief among our people.

Since the first HIV-positive case in Namibia was reported in 1986, HIV/AIDS has remained a major public health hazard in the country.

HIV in Namibia is mainly spread through heterosexual sex, driven by high rates of multiple and concurrent partnerships, transactional sex and child abuse, misconceptions among the general population about the risk of contracting HIV, low and inconsistent condom use and low rates of male circumcision.

Talking about circumcision, Uganda has over the last two years circumcised 380 000 men compared to a mere 10 000 Namibian men and male children circumcised in 2009, though this figure could now be higher.

In proportion to our small population, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among the highest in the world and since 1996 the pandemic remains the leading cause of death.

Dr Richard Kamwi the minister of health and his selfless team, and of course the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) implemented through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), all deserve praise. PEPFAR's efforts are praiseworthy because it has availed billions mainly in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The US accounts for 48 percent of all international assistance for HIV in the world.

In 2011, Namibia was among the six countries in sub-Saharan Africa that exceeded 75 percent coverage of services to prevent mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.

The other countries in the region that achieved coverage of more than 75 percent were Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. On the downside of the scale, countries such as Angola, Chad, Congo, Eriteria, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan reported PMTCT coverage of less than 25 percent.

According to the UNAIDS regional fact sheet, between 2009 and 2011 the number of children newly infected with HIV fell in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 percent.

Another encouraging sign globally is that the number of people with access to antiretroviral therapy increased by 63 percent in the last 24 months, while AIDS-related deaths fell by more than 25 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Namibian health officials and the country's development partners have done sterling work for the entire nation and their joint efforts resulted in a drastic reduction in new HIV infections that were reduced by 68 percent. This compares favourably to the reduction of 71 percent (Botswana), 58 percent (Zambia) and 50 percent in Zimbabwe during that period.

It is indeed gratifying that it is possible that Namibia, just like other countries in Africa and beyond, could achieve zero new HIV infections in children.

We were again listed among the six African countries (Burundi, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Togo and Zambia) that saw the number of children newly infected with HIV fall by at least 40 percent between 2009 and 2012.

This global partnership in the fight against HIV/AIDS is indicative of the political will of our leaders to ensure we have an HIV-free generation. The combined and resolute efforts of the entire global community show "we are moving from despair to hope." Despite all these remarkable achievements, we should not become complacent, because doing that will be at our own peril as a global human race.

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