By Catherine Sasman
UNICEF country representative, Khin-Sandi Lwin, will be leaving Namibia next month. Her next UN assignment is to work as the UN resident coordinator seconded to UNDP. New Era caught up with her to talk about her seven years in the country.
What is UNICEF’s mandate in Namibia and how has it gone about to fulfil that?
UNICEF’s overall mandate anywhere in the world is to support local governments where they exist in addressing the most critical issues affecting women and children.
In Namibia, the obvious most critical issues are HIV/Aids, and the impact of Aids on all dimensions of survival of children, their development, which includes education and protection of children.
HIV/Aids has a wide spread of impact.
Those are areas that we are focusing on in terms of our support to the government here.
Why is HIV/Aids such a critical issue in Namibia? Does it have something to do with the status of women in society?
If you do a deeper analysis you could attempt to work out what the issues are. But a systematic, proper evidence-based approach is necessary.
There is a study about to begin that will look at the drivers of the epidemic.
There are many speculations about why in southern Africa particularly HIV infections have shot up.
Of course, it has to do with sexual practices, with gender inequality issues, as well as the migration of people. These are the different elements that contribute towards the spread of HIV. So far we have been unable to pinpoint any particular reason, but the main issue remains sexual practices.
In some countries the main driver of HIV infections are through blood transfusion. That is not an issue here in Namibia. In other countries you may have homosexual relationships as the driver of the epidemic. Again, that is not the issue here.
In Namibia we know the main driver is heterosexual transmission due to sexual practices such as multi-partner, concurrent sexual partners.
This may be influenced by alcohol abuse because that influences decision-making and judgment.
A lot of money is being pumped into the fight against HIV/Aids. Why do you think has Namibia not been able to make a dent in the HIV/Aids prevalence rate?
A lot of money has come into the country for HIV/Aids, but a lot of this has gone into treatment.
There is not enough money for prevention. Far from it.
This is what we are trying to do by bringing different people to the table to look at what drives the epidemic here, and why it is that we are seemingly not able to make a change in the prevalence rate.
We are really not doing enough in prevention; there is a lot of talk and information in terms of what the issues are, but there has not been a change in people’s behaviour.
This would take a lot interpersonal communication, counseling and support.
The study should be completed within the next six months before the report is out, but we should not wait for that. We know what the main causes are, what is pushing the epidemic.
The study will, however, fine-tune what we know of HIV/Aids in Namibia. It is really to try and pinpoint these issues that are much more localised for local action to be taken.
We would be able to see, for example, why the prevalence has shot up in certain parts of certain regions. The prevalence has shot up tremendously in Lǟ