By Catherine Sasman
OXFAM Canada last Friday formally wrapped up its operations in Namibia while its new direction henceforth would focus on women’s rights and gender equality, working with a newly-established NGO, the Advanced Community Health Care Services (CoHeNa) that operates in the Omaheke Region.
After many years of supporting the anti-apartheid struggle from outside, the development group commenced its operations inside the country in 1983. In 1990 it negotiated with the new government to open up a project in the Kavango Region. And in 1999 it shifted its activities to Omaheke where it was involved in the prevention of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS through the Omaheke Health and Education Programme (OHEP), a precursor to CoHeNa.
Last year, said Oxfam Canada Programme Coordinator in southern Africa, Jim MacKinnon, the organization decided to change its operations in Namibia, which is in line with its other operations worldwide.
“As an organization, we have identified the most intractable development problem, and have decided to focus on women’s rights,” added Executive Director of the organization, Robert Fox. “The central issues that create the dynamics of gender inequality are present in Namibia. Most women have less access to resources and are more at risk to become victims of violence. If you are a woman, you are more likely to struggle to have your rights respected.
Women need more power and respect. Oxfam Canada thus takes on that challenge because when we tackle women’s rights the impact on society will transform this country and the world in a sustainable and substantive manner.”
The organization’s involvement in the Omaheke Region has resulted in a dramatic decline in TB cases. This region has formerly been the worst hit by this disease. Now, said Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr Norbert Foster, the region is leading in the treatment and prevention of the disease.
The stigma associated with the disease, remarked Dr Cordelia Zvavamwe of CoHeNa, has also drastically reduced. “A lot of movement has since occurred in respect of this disease,” she said, adding that the cure rate of the disease has increased from 28% to 91%.
To improve its services to the communities there, CoHeNa has introduced home-based care by its field promoters.
CoHeNa will extend its services to the Hardap Region and partners with Oxfam Canada in its fight for increased women’s rights.
“The Government of Namibia welcomes development partners and challenges we face including that both TB and HIV carry a social stigma, and dual infection carries a double stigma,” commented Deputy Minister of Health, Petrina Haingura. “Because HIV/AIDS is growing among women, gender perspectives and research are needed to understand contexts of infection and its effects.” Women are also vulnerable to TB infection, which is the leading infectious cause of death among young women.
“Women need knowledge. They need access to resources including basic health services. They also need the power to make decisions about their lives and that of their families,” Haigura added.