US helps Namibia win against HIV

23 April 2019 | Health

Namibia's health ministry last week signed a new five-year cooperation agreement with the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at keeping Namibia's globally acclaimed approach to tackling HIV Aids on track as the country sits on the cusp of reaching epidemic control.

Dr Eric Dziuban, CDC country director to Namibia, last week said the vision for the next five-year cooperation with Namibia was “to achieve sustained epidemic control,” which does not mean the epidemic is wiped out, but that fewer new cases will be reported.

He said the latest agreement was the fourth one between the CDC and the ministry.

In the next five years, “we anticipate that Namibia will have fully reached HIV epidemic control in the country, and will be shifting focus towards providing stable, long-term quality care and treatment to those living with HIV and the strengthening of the primary healthcare system.”

Over the next five years the CDC will work closely with the health ministry to develop a strategy that is grounded in setting the stage for the long-term transition to full Namibian domestic leadership, he added.

In the short term, the CDC will help optimise locally led programme implementation in order to reach the “last and most challenging hot spots and unmet needs of the country.”

He cautioned that ending the HIV epidemic does not mean that HIV goes away but means that fewer new patients diagnosed, who will continue to require quality care and services.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula said Namibia has a generalised HIV epidemic with 10% of the general population living with HIV, around 200 000 people.

Dziuban said another focus would be on age differences, notably children and teenagers, who are more likely to have poor viral load suppression, which he warned puts the next generation of Namibians at risk.

He said a lack of adequate treatment could mean that a new pool of young adults could rapidly pass and spread the infection to others, cautioning that looking back to 1986, there were four cases of HIV, then six in 1990 and currently 200 000 Namibians are living with HIV.

“Let us help the next generation of Namibians avoid the dangers of an uncontrolled epidemic that all of you have experienced.”



Progress

Shangula said women in Namibia bear a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic, with a prevalence of 19.8% compared to 14.9% of men.

Nevertheless, Namibia has made great strides in the fight against HIV/Aids, having currently achieved 94:96:95 of the national target of 95:95:9 to diagnose 95% of all HIV-positive persons, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 95% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 95% of those treated by 2020.

The US ambassador to Namibia described this as “an incredible achievement”.

Shangula said the funding agreement will help Namibia to achieve its targets and address the remaining gaps in the strategy to tackle the epidemic.

He said with the funding assistance from the US, the ministry will continue to work on scaling up HIV testing services, and to implement tailored evidence-based strategies to especially help find, test and link to treatment populations with low ART coverage.

Other crucial services such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission and Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision will also be strengthened through this agreement.

The agreements between the CDC and Namibia are developed on a multi-year basis, with funding always committed one year at a time as per the funding availability through the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) country operational plan for Namibia.

Based on the current funding cycle, US$1 744 117 (N$24 462 112) is committed to this agreement for the period of April-September 2019.

PEPFAR Namibia anticipates signing a new agreement with the Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator later this week to confirm the next annual funding commitment, at which point additional money will become available to the partnership between the CDC and the health ministry.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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