Windhoek-The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has availed around N$1 billion towards the fight against HIV/AIDS in Namibia for this financial year. This year’s budgetary allocation from PEPFAR (US$ 72.3) exceeds the N$731,86 million allocated by PEPFAR in the previous financial year.
Ambassador of the United States of America (USA) to Namibia Thomas Daughton said at a media briefing that there was a perception that the USA is not highly committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Namibia. “But that’s not the case because the fight is not over,” he said, noting that N$1 billion is not a small amount of money.
Daughton said: “AIDS hasn’t gone away. It keeps coming up. In rural areas, HIV/AIDS is felt daily, while in urban areas it may not look like so much of a problem. Technically, AIDS is still the number one health issue.”
Therefore, much more remains to be done to attain the 90-90-90 target of the United Nations, which aims to help end the AIDS epidemic by 2020.
This means that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV in Namibia should be identified and know their status. It also means by that same year, 90 percent of those identified should be on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of those on antiretroviral treatment should have their viral load suppressed.
“If we can do that we can control the epidemic and it means that there will be less new infections,” said Dr Simon Agolory, the country director of the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Namibia about 85 percent of people living with HIV know their status, while 86 percent of those who are HIV positive are on antiretroviral treatment and 84 percent of those on antiretroviral treatment have their viral load suppressed.
“We‘re close. The last mile is usually not the easiest,” Agolory added.
Quoting recent statistics, Agolory said that people in the 20 to 40 age group are most at risk of HIV infection. Worrying, it appears young men between the 20-24 age group are not keen on testing for HIV, while women in that age group are equally at risk of infection, as they are more likely to engage in relationships with older men.
“It will be very difficult to control the epidemic at the 25-40 age group, because they are not easily identifiable, yet treatment is an effective way of preventing [the spread of] HIV,” said Agolory. He further explained that because people in this age group shy away from getting tested for HIV, those who are HIV positive do not go on treatment and thus spread the virus, knowingly or unknowingly.
He said the chances of spreading the HIV virus while on antiretroviral treatment are slim, even in cases where condoms are not used.
Further, it was highlighted during the media briefing that people at high risk of HIV infection, such as those with multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men, and sex workers can be put on antiretroviral treatment in the form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection.
According to new health guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Social Services that will soon be implemented, people at high risk of HIV infection can access PreP treatment. PrEP is a way for people who are not infected by HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent such infection by taking antiretroviral drugs every day.
Meanwhile, Daughton stressed that young men, in particular, do not want to get tested to know their HIV status. Nevertheless, he added that Namibia is one of the high burden countries in terms of HIV, that is close to attaining the United Nations’ 90-90-90 targets.
The problem is not going to go away anytime soon though. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but in order to treat people [with HIV/AIDS] they have to be identified and put on antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible, said Daughton, who urged the media to help identify why young people are shying away from being tested for the disease.