By Petronella Sibeene
First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba yesterday opened a three-day workshop for the Organisation of African Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), an organisation that gives a “mother’s face” in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“A mother in an African village is a mother to all the children in that village,” was a message the Namibian first lady conveyed to attendees from Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia.
HIV/AIDS has left millions of children parentless, and according to Pohamba the time has come to mobilize communities and neighbours to ensure that orphans and vulnerable children are well looked after.
In Namibia, HIV/AIDS continues to exact a grim toll on the population, spreading so fast that at least 40 percent of deaths are attributed to this incurable disease.
From a relatively small population of 2 million, the number of those infected stands at 23 percent of the total Namibian population.
An estimated 200 000 people are living with HIV/AIDS, of which 56 percent are women.
Every year, an estimated 15 000 Namibians succumb to full-blown AIDS.
Namibia is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are hardest hit by the disease. The deadly virus does not only threaten the productive workforce but is also tearing families apart. HIV/AIDS alone has left more than 85 000 orphans countrywide. If nothing is done about the ongoing spread of the disease, it is projected that by 2021 Namibia will have 250 000 orphans.
The Namibian first lady reiterated that being a mother means making absolutely sure that all children are well nourished.
She called for all OAFLA members to ensure that kindergartens and pre-primary schools in villages are established to prepare children for a better future.
Children should be spoken to on HIV/AIDS-related matters if the continent would someday be proclaimed AIDS free.
“It is important to speak to these children, visit them at schools and homes to assess their progress, and encourage them to take their education seriously, so that they grow in a manner that will help them to be ready to ensure that an AIDS-free nation starts with them,” she said.
OAFLA is similarly concerned about violence, especially rape, that affects mainly children and women, the high unemployment rate among women and teenage pregnancy in communities.
Pohamba urged participants to discuss these issues in depth and find lasting solutions.
On average, 2 000 cases of domestic violence are reported to the Namibian police each year. Research conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare two years ago found that there are about 600 rape cases and an additional 150 attempted rape cases reported annually. Unemployment stands at 36 percent.
“OAFLA targets to address the suffering of our people as a result of HIV/AIDS,” she said.
While Namibia has made efforts directed at fighting HIV/AIDS, stigma and discrimination remain a big deterrent to people accessing HIV-related services such as voluntary counselling and testing.
Some communities still abandon and neglect widows while relatives abuse the inheritance system.
According to Pohamba, OAFLA will work hard to minimize the HIV/AIDS pandemic and will support the affected.
OAFLA strives to strengthen mechanisms geared towards uplifting the wellbeing and living standards of people disadvantaged by HIV/AIDS.
The three-day meeting is also in preparation for the OAFLA General Assembly meeting scheduled for July 2007 in Accra.
OAFLA was formed in July 2002 in Geneva, Switzerland. During the launch 37 first ladies signed into the organization, including Namibia.
Zambian First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa is the current president with eight vice-presidents for the Eastern, Central, Western, Southern, and Northern African sub-regions.