WINDHOEK – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced a N$32 million partnership over five years with the TONATA PLHIV (People Living with HIV) Network to expand community-based HIV treatment among its network of over 600 community support groups representing 17 300 Namibians.
The 17 300 Namibians who will benefit directly from the generous American funding, currently live with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
The partnership with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) will support Community-Based ART Refill Groups in high-burden areas of north-central Namibia to decrease the workload of health workers and overcrowding in health facilities.
It will reduce the number of visits by Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) patients. Instead of visiting clinics individually to collect their medication, Community-Based ART Refill Groups send one representative to collect pre-packed antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) from the nearest health facility for all group members.
This does not only save time, but also reduces transport costs and other logistical challenges, especially for minors and the elderly.
Most importantly, community members experience a sense of togetherness and help each other to remember to take their medication regularly and on time.
This is crucial because in order to suppress the virus, prevent it from being spread to others, and lead healthy lives, PLHIV need to take ART.
TONATA (which means “Open your eyes” in Oshiwambo) and the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS), with U.S. government assistance, collaborate to expand differentiated models of care by working with community support groups in eight districts: Andara, Engela, Grootfontein, Nyangana, Onandjokwe, Omuthiya, Oshikuku, and Tsumeb.
“Due to TONATA’s experience in working hand in hand with local communities, their partnership with USAID brings HIV treatment closer to the people – even in the most remote areas – and also helps in Namibia’s fight against stigma,” says Acting USAID Country Representative, Edith Humphreys.
The MoHSS has made significant progress in decentralising HIV services across the country, while TONATA has undertaken a special role to involve communities in promoting retention and adherence to medication, home-based follow-up, as well as peer-led psychosocial support.
Namibia’s National HIV/AIDS program, with over a decade of experience, has significantly scaled up HIV treatment with good, clinical outcomes.
PEPFAR assistance supports continuous training, mentoring, and supervision of support groups to make it more convenient for stable patients to receive their medicines at their doorstep.
This service is expected to grow from what is currently only 1 600 to over 37 500 ART patients across multiple regions.
USAID has worked with TONATA on small projects since 2009 and believes that local solutions from community support groups will sustain HIV epidemic control into the future.
PEPFAR is the largest commitment ever by a single nation toward an international health initiative – a comprehensive approach to combating HIV/AIDS and TB around the world.
In Namibia, PEPFAR is led by the U.S. Ambassador and programmed by an inter-agency management team that includes the USAID, Peace Corps, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).