Targeting the youth crucial in HIV/AIDS battle

by Selma Ikela

Windhoek

Minister of Health and Social Services Bernhard Haufiku says HIV services need to be taken to key population groups. He noted that young people in Namibia last year constituted 20 percent of new HIV infections and an outreach programme is needed for them if the county is to meet its target of ending AIDS.

He said the key target groups include men who have ‘sex’ with men, transgenders, truck drivers, sex workers and migratory contract workers.

Haufiku said “human rights need to be respected at all times, hence service needs to go to the key population”.
“I know some people have become allergic to the words ‘key population’ but I will keep repeating them. There are a group of young people in Namibia who last year constituted 20 percent of new infections of HIV. There are people in correctional facilities who are contracting HIV because they have sex in prison – man and woman or man and man. It is happening. This is a key population and we need to reach out to them.”

“Then there are people selling sex, sex workers. We can’t stay in denial and when we need to reach out to them,” said Haufiku during a national stakeholders’ consultation meeting for domesticating and implementing the political declaration to fast-track the fight against HIV and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Notably, Haufiku said, the migratory contract working system of the 1970s is still present with the majority of people coming to towns, including harbour towns, where they pick up the disease and take it to young women at the villages. “So colleagues, we need to reach to all of them. All of us must work together and meet our target of ending AIDS.” He emphasized the real issue at hand is to prevent further infections.

“We need to turn close the tap flooding the kitchen. We need to get to zero. We need to end transmission of HIV from mother to child before 2020 and time is against us. We need to end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030 and it is just about 14 years from now,” said Haufiku.

Ombudsman Advocate John Walters said he was encouraged by the words of Haufiku that nothing is complete without human rights. Walters said key populations are vulnerable groups who are at high risk of HIV infection, as a result of high-risk sexual practices. “Their needs must be addressed. We must reach out to sex workers. We can’t stay in denial,” stated Walters.

Walters said Article 13 of the Namibian Constitution protects the right to privacy and no person is requested to disclose their preferred sexual orientation in any official government form or document, and they should not be refused access to private or public services based on their sexual orientation.

Walters said if condoms are not provided in prisons it may add to the numbers of people infected with HIV. “If you don’t bother with what a person is doing in their personal and private life, why do we still need the old common law offence of sodomy?” he questioned.

He further stated that they visited prison and police holding cells on a number of occasions and received complaints that inmates were not getting three meals per day and thus could not take their preventative medications. “On other occasions, they are not taken to clinics for them to receive their ARV medicine. If we are not doing this regularly in our detention facilities, we will not stop the infection rate,” said Walters, adding that the government should change its attitude.

Dr Ndapewa Hamunime said the northern regions are mostly affected by the epidemic, namely, Zambezi with 23.7 percent, Omusati 17.4 percent, Kavango 17 percent, Oshana 16.1 percent and Ohangwena at 15.6 percent.

Notably, Hamunine said, Lüderitz since 1992 is one of the districts which has a prevalence of above 20 percent among pregnant women – “and it never became down”.

In total the //Karas Region (with 12.4 percent prevalence) might look clean but there are hot spots, she added. Hamunime said the highest HIV burden is among females and the virus is high among the sexually active age group of 14 to 25 years.

On HIV response, HIV incidence declined by 50 percent among PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) while there has been a 50 percent decline in AIDS-related deaths.

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