By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Statistics show that 15 000 Namibians die of HIV/AIDS every year. And with an infection rate of 19,7 percent, it is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are hardest hit. These startling facts were revealed yesterday by the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, who was the keynote speaker at the tenth annual HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign at the Polytechnic of Namibia. The two-day event is presented under the theme, “Breaking the Barriers”. “Today we are gathered here to renew our commitment to fight AIDS and to support the country’s youth in their fight against the pandemic. Pertinent questions that need to be answered are: is Aids that much of an issue that you as students should worry about it; why should learning institutions care about HIV/AIDS and what can each Namibian do about AIDS?” Kamwi asked. In his view, AIDS has become one of the most devastating diseases mankind has ever faced. “HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa and the fourth in the world. Southern Africa in particular holds several of the world’s hardest hit countries such as Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. With a population of around 1,8 million Namibia has an estimated 200 000 people living with AIDS, of which 56 percent of women are infected,” Kamwi claimed. “The highest prevalence rate of infection occurs in the age bracket 24-29, the age group of young adults in the prime of life. Since 1996 AIDS has been the leading cause of death in the country. It is estimated that 15 000 Namibians may be dying of AIDS every year,” he said. Kamwi cited the impact of AIDS as one of the biggest impediments for socio-economic development in the country. “AIDS is a formidable challenge of all times. It is not only a health problem, but also a development crisis. Whichever way we look at it, AIDS is a problem, for the nation, us all as well as the youth of this country,” the minister said. According to Kamwi, AIDS does not only destroy human life, it also undermines the human capital that the country could have counted on. “Thus, learning institutions have a moral obligation to join the fight against AIDS because it undermines their primary mission – education. However, over the past several years experience has shown that we are not powerless against the AIDS onslaught. The pandemic does yield to interventions that are determined, strong and concerted,” he encouraged. “In particular the Namibian youth is our greatest hope for turning the tide against AIDS. “When the history of our time is written, the present generation will be judged by the way it has empowered young people to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. As places with a significant concentration of young people and nurturing professionals, institutions of higher learning have ample opportunity to empower the youth by shaping their behaviour. Coupled with the right behaviour, knowledge is power times two,” Kamwi said. The minister volunteered to have an HIV/AIDS test, to great applause from the young people present. “I recognise the need for Namibians to know their status as an important prevention and intervention tool. People should have voluntary counselling and testing. Those people who learn that they are negative can be empowered to remain disease-free. Those persons infected can now access various services, which help them live longer, healthier lives and to prevent transmission of the virus to others,” Kamwi said. He also encouraged those already infected and are developing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. “Voluntary counselling and testing generates optimism as large numbers of persons test HIV-negative. It reduces stigma and discrimination and enhances the development of care and support services. Counselling and testing also reduces transmission and enables access to preventative prophylaxis and to antiretroviral treatment,” Kamwi asserted. “VCT enhances faithfulness and encourages family planning and it empowers uninfected persons to protect themselves. It also assists infected persons to protect others and live positively. I may be preaching to the converted, you as students, but don’t be mistaken the struggle against AIDS is far from being won. We have to do more, better, faster and more effectively. In this young people can count on the support of the government,” he in conclusion assured the young audience.
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