Namibian President Hage Geingob joined world leaders yesterday in sharing the experience of various countries in the battle against AIDS, as evidence emerged that the world community exceeded United Nations targets on halting and reversing the spread of HIV, as set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released an updated report on the side-lines of the Third International conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Tuesday, which shows that global HIV-infection rates have fallen by 35 per cent, while AIDS-related deaths declined by 41 per cent.
The global response to the ravages of HIV prevented 30 million new HIV infections and close to 8 million AIDS-related deaths since 2000, when the MDGs were first set. The goal of providing HIV treatment to 15 million people by the end of this year had already been met in March, UNAIDS said.
President Hage Geingob shared Namibia’s experience on the global response to the epidemic and the lessons learned over the past 15 years with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UNAIDS executive secretary, Michel Sidibé, during the launch of the said report at the Empress Zewditu Memorial Hospital.
“Today, we have de-stigmatised AIDS in Namibia. It is no longer the proverbial white elephant in the room. As a result of this, our people opened up to voluntary testing and embraced HIV-AIDS treatment. The results were phenomenal,” Geingob said.
“The world has delivered on halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic. Now we must commit to ending the AIDS epidemic as part of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Ban Ki-moon said.
Geingob said Namibia’s success was achieved by significant scaling up of resources on all fronts and a multi-faceted approach that includes awareness raising at a early age, HIV AIDS counselling, the extension of medical infrastructure and personnel, as well the provision of life-saving medicines.
Namibia has seen a drop of nearly 50 per cent in new HIV infections over the last 15 years; a more than 60 per cent reduction in new HIV infections among children and more than 132,000 Namibians are on anti-retroviral treatment (a coverage rate of 90 per cent).
Furthermore, 95 per cent of all women in Namibia have access to HIV medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The UNAIDS report shows that the world is on track to meet the investment targets of US$22 billion for the response to the epidemic by 2015 and that concrete action over the next 15-years can end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Geingob singled out the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS for helping Namibia combat the HIV epidemic. “The excellent results would not have been possible if it were not for the assistance of our international partners,” he said. The Namibian President further said while it is important for the international community to support Namibia’s efforts, the government would continue to fund more than 60 per cent of AIDS response from its own resources.
“Going forward, we have realised the strong link between the medical response to AIDS and the fight against poverty, especially food poverty. Results of anti-retroviral treatment could be better, if some of the affected individuals have access to three meals a day.
“We have, therefore, taken the additional step of declaring war on poverty, as poverty is a contributing factor to AIDS. I believe that as we progress in to putting measures in place to eradicate poverty in Namibia, the results of our AIDS response will just improve,” Geingob said.