26 February 2018

Namibia: HIV Message Not Reaching Ovahimba Where It's Needed Most

Windhoek — The message on effective contraceptive use, particularly the promotion of condom use to prevent unwanted pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, is not reaching the people who need it the most in rural communities.

These are the views of the councillor of the Sesfontein constituency, Julius Kaujova, who told New Era that the people of Kunene and in particular the Ovahimba communities are deeply rooted in culture that they do not adhere to modern practices such as safe sex.

Last week, New Era reported on a child bride who was married off at the age of eight. Recently, however, she and her 56-year-old husband who also has another wife, had their first sexual encounter. Asked on whether they used protection, the 16-year-old, Zerihongua Muhenje reluctantly replied "yes".

"These things (child marriages) are happening in the remote areas and there are no health extension workers in the remote areas to inform the public on HIV. The message is not reaching those who need the information the most," said Kaujova.

The health extension workers go out in the communities within their reach to educate the public on HIV related matters.

"The health extension workers' centre their HIV message on ABC (abstinence, be faithful and condomise)," said Kaujova. He further said there are no funds to go very far in the remote areas. "The Ovahimba people are deeply rooted in their own traditions, norms and standards and it is very rare for the Ovahimba to marry outside, that's why child marriages are rife among them. In a way, it's also a form of survival because those who marry off these children get a form of inheritance," explained Kaujova.

It is for this reason that health extension workers such as Hugo Tjikuara who works in the Otjokavare Catchment area in Sesfontein constituency focus their messages on couples testing for HIV.

"... It's a culture, you can't change anything. I, as a health extension worker, can't change anything because they are already marrying each other as their culture dictates. But we advise them to get tested for HIV to be sure that one partner is not passing on the virus to the other," said Tjikuara.

Despite having the lowest proportion of pregnant women delivering in health facilities, according to the 2013 Demographic and Health survey, the Kunene Region has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, according to statistics.

Tjikuara said that health extension workers promote the use of contraceptives in schools because that is where "children get pregnant the most".


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