Envoy Urges Focus on Women, Orphans

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK United Nations General Secretary’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis has called for the intensifying of HIV/AIDS programmes directed at women and orphans. He also feels there is a need to find out how the disease affects them. Lewis discussed the matter with President Hifikepunye Pohamba during a courtesy call yesterday. In an interview, Lewis revealed that talks with the President centred on the great need to look at the situation of women and orphans in the country and how they are affected by HIV/AIDS. Pohamba, during the one-and-a-half-hour meeting revealed that Namibia is a small country on the continent struggling to find resources for the fight against HIV/AIDS. According to Lewis, the President also emphasised that education is the vehicle for change and a tool for fighting the disease. Despite challenges identified in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Lewis acknowledged the significant progress made by Namibia. He congratulated the Ministry of Health and Social Services together with its partners for the progress made in decreasing the prevalence rate in the critical age group of 15 to 19. The prevalence rate has dropped from 11 to 10 percent. “Namibia is one of the four countries on the continent that has succeeded and exceeded the UN target for treatment in Africa,” he stated. Lewis, winner of the prestigious Health and Human Rights award from the International Council of Nurses last year, arrived in the country on Sunday and has already met with the UN country representative team, Cabinet ministers and members of parliament as well as other organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS in Windhoek. He expressed satisfaction over the efforts that the Namibian government and its people are putting into fighting the pandemic. “They have definite movement, the Government is focused and on Thursday will hold a press conference where I will give my opinion and suggestions about HIV/AIDS in Namibia,” he told New Era. While significant strides have been made by the country in its HIV/AIDS fight, the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) condemned the Namibian and South African governments for excluding the alliance from participating in the United Nations’ General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) Review to be held in New York next month. A statement received from the Law AIDS Unit says UNGASS Review is a critical gathering for leaders around the world where governments and civil society assess the global progress on combating the epidemic, and commitments made by government leaders at the first UNGASS gathering held in 2001. “Excluding human rights organisations working at the epicentre of the epidemic undermines efforts to effectively assess the human rights based response to HIV and AIDS and calls into question the credibility of the entire UNGASS Review process,” the statement read. Twenty years since the declaration of HIV/AIDS was reported in Namibia, the infection rate has started showing some signs of stabilization. Over the years, the Namibian government has implemented different programmes in an effort to curb this problem. Through different interventions, the prevalence rate has reduced from 22 percent to 19 percent, which is a 2.3 percent down when comparing 2002 statistics to those of 2004. Namibia Network of AIDS Service Organizations (NANASO) revealed in its preliminary report released mid-last year that approximately 20 percent of the sexually active population lives with the virus. The age group identified as the most sexually active section of the population ranges from 15 to 34 years. The report also ascertained that close to 90 000 children under the age of 15 years have lost either parents or one parent to the pandemic. Also, according to research done by NANASO, the country is still among the world’s worst affected by the disease and it is estimated that close to 215 000 people in the country are potential carriers of the virus that causes AIDS. However, different strategies have been put in place by the Ministry of Health and Social Services in its efforts to prevent uninfected Namibians from engaging in activities that might put them in risky situations and to help prolong the lives of those infected by the virus. Other initiatives taken by the government include the provision of anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs, the Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) initiative and home-based care centres. The government rolls out ARVs at different state hospitals in the country.