By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK NINE out of every ten people who are HIV/AIDS infected are living in developing countries with Namibia being one of seven countries that currently have the highest prevalence rate in the world. These startling facts came to light yesterday during the opening of a two-day round-table discussion on HIV/AIDS between Namibian parliamentarians, representatives of the civil society and the business sector at a local hotel in the capital. “HIV/AIDS has already caused unparalleled human suffering and far worse lies ahead. Since the pandemic emerged in the early 1980’s more than 20 million people have died and by 2010 the cumulative toll is expected to double. Statistics show that presently, more than 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS of which 12 million are in their teens or young adulthood,” the chairperson of the Standing Committee of Human Resources, Social and Community Development, Elia George Kaiyamo, said. He was the keynote speaker at the discussion forum. Attending the conference are some ten MP’s from various political persuasions. It is financed by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) based in Washington. “Dozens of countries are already deep in the grip of the epidemic and many more are on the brink, especially in Southern Africa where 17 million people have already died with 30 million infected. Estimates for Namibia explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS. This can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population growth and an imbalance in the distribution of the country’s population,” Kaiyamo said. According to information provided by Kaiyamo, 22,5% of the country’s adult population is infected with the virus with huge disparities in different regions. “AIDS currently accounts for 47% of all deaths in hospitals with one in five Namibians between the ages of 15 and 49 infected with HIV. This is an indication that in the coming years, the entire age structure of the Namibian population will have been disrupted, primarily among women. In some countries the education and health systems have come apart as teachers and health professionals continue to pass away as a result of AIDS. Furthermore, political stability and national security are threatened as the disease fells huge numbers in government, the armed forces and the police,” Kaiyamo charged. In his opinion, the country has made great strides in economic and human resources development since independence. “However, these efforts are altered on a daily basis by the impact of HIV/AIDS, which has surpassed tuberculosis and malaria as the number one cause of death in the country. It is estimated that by the end of 2007, the total new AIDS cases will reach an estimated 23 700. These figures are appalling in themselves. Every sphere of the society is affected by the epidemic, posing one of the greatest challenges to business development in the whole of Africa,” he said. He elaborated on the devastation the illness is causing among business leaders and the workforce of the country. “HIV related absenteeism, loss of productivity and the cost of replacing workers lost to AIDS, threaten the survival of businesses in the private as well as the public sectors. Therefore, it is imperative that a consolidated partnership be established between Government, the private sector as well as civil society to tackle the disease. The business community is realising that its very survival depends on how effectively it joins forces with partners to face up to the problem,” he revealed. He informed those present that the Namibian Government has acknowledged the existence and devastating effects AIDS has on basically all spheres of the society. “The rich and the poor, the young and the old, blacks and whites are and can be affected or infected by the disease. We definitely have to urge compassion and understanding within our families and communities in the workplace and across the society. AIDS is likely to have far-reaching economic effects for employers, employees and the nation as a whole,” Kaiyamo warned. He welcomed the round-table discussion for parliamentarians to learn more about the impact of the diseases specifically in the workplace. “Appropriate strategies and linkages can clearly be an effective and efficient way of tackling HIV and AIDS,” he advised.
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