Windhoek — Outgoing Ambassador of the United States of America (USA) to Namibia, Thomas Daughton, says there are still no answers as to how to get some men to get tested for HIV and treatment if positive.
One of the challenges for Namibia is that men between 15 and 29 years old are reluctant to get tested for HIV, noted Daughton.
There are a variety of reasons that can explain why men are reluctant to get tested - and part of it is cultural, explained the outgoing diplomat.
Asked on how more men can be reached for them to test for HIV and subsequently go on treatment if positive, he responded there is no answer on how to do it.
"We've been having these conversations with PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) people in Washington for more than two years now, where I say to them: 'Okay, we've identified what the issue is, please tell us how to address it and the response is often, 'Well, we haven't figured that out yet but if you figure it out yourselves let us know,'" said Daughton during an interview with New Era last Thursday.
However, a lot of time is spent on finding solutions.
One of the current solutions to get more men to test for HIV, is contact tracing. "If a young woman comes into a clinic and tests for the first time and she is found to be positive, they don't just say here are the drugs you have to take them. They say how many partners do you have and who are they? Most of these young women are willing to reveal their partners' names and that is how they are contacted," explained Daughton.
He added: "That works pretty well. It produces high rate of return. In most cases the men come in to be tested and the percentage of positives is quite high. That's good because we are trying to identify the positive people, but that's also expensive and it's labour-intensive."
From the very beginning testing for HIV was focused (more) on pregnant women because the whole idea was preventing transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their children, he explained.
"This was great because when you test and treat a pregnant woman you are not actually benefiting one person but two," he noted.
"So, that naturally sets the whole national programme of HIV/AIDS in a feminine direction, if I could say that," said Daughton.
However, with time it became apparent that women in Namibia avail themselves for medical care more regularly than men do and particularly young women as opposed to young men.
"Young men only go to see the doctor when they break their arm or something, and so we have seen that as this country gets closer and closer to reaching epidemic control, the big gap that's left is young men. And, I spent time in speeches and travelling around the country encouraging young men to get tested and if they are positive, to get on treatment."
However, there's still a lot of work to be done in that area, he stressed. Despite the success stories in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Namibia is one of eight high-burden countries with a high burden of new HIV infections - the other countries are South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) - by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status.
By 2020, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. By 2020, 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
"Because of the way statistics are it is theoretically possible for Namibia to reach 90 90 90, but still have this kind of hidden pocket of young men who haven't been tested, who may be positive, don't know it - and so we spend a lot of our public relations effort in the last two years, particularly trying to encourage young men to get themselves into the health system.