Windhoek-The former president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, yesterday called for continued support for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an initiative he fathered in 2003 to assist Africa in its fight against HIV/AIDS.
PEPFAR was maintained during Barack Obama’s presidency, but there is some uncertainty over whether the new U.S. administration led by Donald Trump will continue to fund and support it.
Bush arrived in Namibia yesterday with his wife, Laura, and held talks with government officials, including Health Minister Dr Bernhard Haufiku, First Lady Monica Geingos and the former first lady, Penehupifo Pohamba.
Bush, who served as U.S. president between 2001 and 2009, held a roundtable meeting at Windhoek Central Hospital with Haufiku and other officials. During that meeting he commended Namibia’s achievements in combating HIV/AIDS.
Bush is widely credited for initiating PERPAR, a U.S. government initiative to help save the lives of people suffering from HIV/AIDS around the globe. He noted yesterday that 11.5 million people in Africa are on antiretroviral treatment, because of PEPFAR funding.
Since 2004 to date PEPFAR has availed a staggering N$28,5 billion to the Namibian health sector – one of the largest contributions to the country from external sources.
Bush, as part of his two-day visit to Namibia, yesterday spent time at Windhoek Central Hospital, including the maternity ward, where he was briefed on the achievements and challenges of the health sector, particularly in combating HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer.
The former U.S. president also got a chance to interact with women at the maternity ward, where some young women (some of whom were with their children) shared their stories about living with HIV.
Namibia has an impressive record in gradually increasing the number of children born without HIV from HIV positive mothers – thanks in part to Bush’s policy AIDS on Africa.
According to the Ministry of Health, the likelihood of HIV passing from mother to child is between 15 percent and 45 percent.
Responding to a question by one of the women on whether Namibia – particularly the health sector -would continue to benefit from PEPFAR funding, Bush said: “That’s a great question, but there are still issues. The U.S. must not neglect the people of this country. They’re doing a lot, but they still need our help.”
He reiterated the same message during the roundtable meeting attended by professionals from mainly the health sector.
The executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Michel Sidibé, who was also present at the meeting, also commended Namibia for its exceptional progress in combating HIV/AIDS.
“Namibia is one of the good countries to show that the dream to end AIDS is possible,” Sidibé remarked.
He said there was a time when many Namibians were dying because of AIDS, but thanks to the intervention from PEPFAR, the Global Fund, as well as political will from the Namibian government, that is no longer the case.
He added that antiretroviral treatment coverage is high in Namibia and noted that 80 percent of the AIDS response in Namibia comes from the national budget.
But “we could be victims of our success story. We should not be complacent,” Sidibé cautioned.
He then made an appeal to the American people and U.S. Congress, saying that although Namibia is doing well in fighting HIV/AIDS, it needs more support to turn the tide and win the battle.
“Millions would suffer if we were to stop now with PEPFAR,” stressed Bush, whose legacy on Africa is said to overshadow that of former American president Barack Obama.
Last year, the Namibian government through the PEPFAR was able to provide antiretroviral treatment to 142,020 people.
In addition, antiretroviral medication was provided to 11,183 pregnant women living with HIV to reduce mother-to-child transmission, as well as voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention was offered to more than 15,116 men.
HIV testing and counseling were also provided to 300,918 people, as well as care and support for 6,953 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.
National statistics indicate that in 2015 there were 210,000 people living with HIV (all ages). Also, 3,100 deaths due to AIDS were recorded during that year period and the number of children orphaned by AIDS stood at 45,000.
Bush further remarked that many African governments have made “great progress” in combating the spread of HIV, because “they took the issue very seriously”.
First Lady Monica Geingos touched on the importance of forming partnerships to address problems in the health sector and called on the private sector to come on board, as only one percent of funding for the health sector currently comes from the private sector.
“Government has done its part,” she said.