HIV Therapy On Target

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia is set to beat the target of providing Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) to 30 000 HIV/AIDS patients before the 2008 deadline. With already 22 000 patients on ARVs, Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Richard Kamwi said the target of reaching 30 000 people will be met by end of 2006 to early 2007. Fifty-two thousand people are in need of ARVs in Namibia but the 230 000 living with HIV/AIDS in the country are all potential candidates for ARV, according to Kamwi. Kamwi, who returned from the 16th International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Toronto, Canada on Saturday, said he was proud of Namibia’s achievements in curbing the epidemic, reducing the numbers of AIDS-related deaths and in rolling out treatment. WHO statistics indicate that Namibia is leading Africa in the provision of ARVs to children and it comes second in providing ARV treatment to adults. Togo is first. Apart from reducing the prevalence rate of pregnant mothers from 22 percent in 2002 to 19.7 percent in 2004, the number of hospital admissions has also gone down from 12 852 in 2003 to 11 410 in 2005. Kamwi said the number of AIDS deaths has also come down from 3 627 people in 2004 to 3 230 in 2005, while the number of patients on ARV has increased from 6 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2005. To sustain these success stories however, Kamwi said, Namibia will have to start pumping money into the HIV/AIDS programmes which are mostly financed by the Global Fund since 2004 and the USA President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) since (2005). “As a government, we must be mindful of the fact that it is not our money. It is foreign funds,” he said, adding that Namibia is now expanding its ARV clinics in order to roll out the programmes, which means that there will be a big demand for money for treatment. Although 10 percent of the country’s national budget goes to health, an insignificant amount goes into fighting HV/AIDS, Kamwi said. “I must admit that these success stories are partly as a result of our development partners,” he said, adding that if anything happened to the programmes, all the people that are currently on treatment would be affected and would die. The conference brought together top class celebrities, former presidents, human rights activists, politicians, civil society organisations and people living with HIV/AIDS. Kamwi said Namibia learnt many things from the conference, among them that prominent people with HIV/AIDS in society should declare their status, men should join their female partners in going for voluntary counselling and testing and also to intensify interventions for vulnerable groups such a prisoners and sex workers. Research has shown that reducing stigma and discrimination encourages many to go for VCT, thus to know their status and act responsibly. Of the 22 000 people on ARV treatment, 64 percent are women. Kamwi said due to the fact that treatment has beneficial effects, many women were getting better. Although various ministries have interventions in place for vulnerable groups, Kamwi said the government should incorporate programmes that address sex workers and prisoners. He noted that many convicts left prisons infected and in turn infected their partners, which area needed to be addressed. Although this may be considered taboo, Kamwi said: “The time is now to face reality because AIDS knows no taboos.”