About 10% of Namibians or 247 126 people are living with HIV, according to 2016 statistics, health minister Bernard Haufiku said on Friday during World AIDS Day commemorations at Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi region.
This year's World AIDS Day was marked under the theme 'The Right To Health', and at Friday's event were delegates from Angola, Nigeria and Zambia.
"Namibia's national prevalence rate stands at 14%, of which Zambezi is the highest-affected region. Hence, our decision to hold this event here with the hope that it will have an impact on the region. Zambezi is followed by Omusati and the two Kavangos at 17,4% and 17% respectively, and Ohangwena at 15%. Omaheke and Kunene remain among the lowest-affected regions in Namibia," said Haufiku.
He said the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region's members signed a memorandum of understanding to implement cross-border HIV initiatives, which are being implemented by the Walvis Bay Corridor Group at the Wenela border post at Katima Mulilo and the Oshikango border post in Ohangwena.
"To date, 32 pre-fabricated wellness counters have been established, and we have heard from the representatives of the corridor group about the marvellous milestones they have achieved. Since the installation of these centres, condom use by female sex workers increased by 18% from April 2016 to June 2017," stated Haufiku.
"Records and recent statistics also indicate an increase by 43% of condom usage by haulage truck drivers. This is a commendable achievement, and deserves more support by all SADC member states and everyone of us," he noted.
Haufiku added that in spite of these successes, many challenges still remain, such as stigma and discrimination in the continent's communities, 37 years after HIV was discovered.
"Women, especially the young, and adolescents face the threat of the scourge more than any other groups. Many remain disempowered, and their right to dignity and independence and decision-making are frequently violated," he stressed.
Another challenge the minister highlighted was child marriages, which are still prevalent on the continent, and school dropout rates, which are particularly high in the Ohangwena and Kavango regions.
"There are still serious challenges and obstacles in our war to end the AIDS epidemic in SADC. Inadequate human resources, high prices of pharmaceuticals as individual states buy on their own instead of pooled procurement as suggested by the SADC secretariat, are some of them.
"Cross-border movements' collaboration remains a challenge in the SADC health sector as places are far and segregated from each other. Therefore, none of the SADC member states can claim any significant milestones towards universal health coverage (UHC), which is a basic and fundamental instrument in achieving the right for all," said Haufiku.
US ambassador to Namibia,Thomas Daughton, said at the same event that despite great successes achieved through Namibia's partnership with Pepfar and the Global Fund, which provides anti-retroviral treatment to 150 000 patients, this epidemic remains the number one killer in the country.
"In 2017 alone, more than 3 200 Namibians will die from the effects of HIV and AIDS. Most of those deaths will occur among men over 25 because many Namibian men who are infected with HIV do not know their status, and are not on ARV treatment.
In 2018, more than 6 000 Namibians will be infected with HIV, with most of these new infections being among young women. This is because older men who do not know their HIV status are having sexual relations with younger women and infecting them in the process", he stressed, adding that to control the HIV epidemic in Namibia, that cycle has to be broken.
Daughton added that through Pepfar, the US has supported a comprehensive health strategy, specifically designed to address the challenges of HIV services in Namibia. But as this is a large and diverse country, providing those services is not easy.
"The Zambezi region provides a clear illustration of some of the biggest challenges we face. Due to many factors, including cultural practices, infrastructure, a dispersed population and poverty, this region has the highest rate of HIV infection. Providing services in Zambezi has been made more difficult by the recent government decision not to renew the contracts of foreign health workers.
"There are no surplus Namibians waiting to fill those jobs. Foreign nurses are often the only ones willing to serve in the challenging conditions of this region, which is why some clinics in the Zambezi region now have no staff," he stated.