18 December 2012

Namibia: HIV Remains 'Development Challenge'

HIV-AIDS remains a great development challenge for Namibia, says Health Minister Richard Kamwi.

According to him, overcoming the challenge will require that leaders at all levels provide the necessary and sustained political leadership and commitment. "Without such commitment and leadership, we as leaders will have failed our people in securing the future."

Kamwi said this in the 2012 National HIV Sentinel Survey report.

In the same report, Andrew Ndishishi, the ministry's permanent secretary, said that although the results show a slight decrease in the overall HIV prevalence among pregnant women, most sentinel sites have shown no significant decrease in HIV prevalence since 2008.

He said it is clear that the HIV epidemic in Namibia is in a stabilised state - "neither increasing nor decreasing substantially. However, it is important to note that HIV prevalence trends vary by site, and that the distribution of infection is not uniform across the country."

Ndishishi says prevalence rates have shifted from younger women to older women.

He said this shift is partly as a result of "the successful expansion of the national anti-retroviral therapy (ART) programme".

This, he says, is clear from the fact that nearly half (41%) of all women who tested HIV positive in the survey were already on ART before being sampled to take part in the survey.

"However, the increasing prevalence rates among older women are also likely to be partially attributable to the continuing occurrence of new infections among women of all age groups."

The PS said that the ministry undertakes to "continue to monitor the epidemic by continually strengthening surveillance efforts and ensuring the timely dissemination of information for action".

A total of 8 047 women took part in this year's survey. They were between 15 and 49 years old.

The overall national prevalence rate among pregnant women attending antenatal clinic was 18,2%.

Prevalence among sites varied considerably, the report states. The sites with the highest HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics were Rundu (24,5%), Oshikuku (24,7%), Onandjokwe (25,7%) and Katima Mulilo (37,7%).

Of the survey, the sites with the lowest prevalence rates were Windhoek Central Hospital (9,6%), Rehoboth (9,8%), Opuwo (9,8%), Gobabis (9,9%) and Okakarara (9,9%).

The report states that the overall prevalence rate of 18,2% is slightly less than the 2010 rate of 18,8%. It peaked among pregnant women in 2002 at 22%.

Because no men are included and only women within a certain age rage, "the results of the survey are not necessarily representative of the general population of Namibia".

It was recommended that existing prevention interventions should be strengthened.

Also, the Ministry of Health and Social Services must continue to expand the HIV counselling and testing programmes so that people know what their status is and begin with treatment when required.

The HIV Sentinel Survey has been monitoring the HIV prevalence in the country every second year from 1992.

This year was the eleventh time that it was conducted.

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