The HIV concentration in 90% of children living with the virus in Ohangwena is so low that a blood test cannot detect the virus anymore, further encouraging the result of strict adherence to antiretroviral therapy and other support services.
Ohangwena health director John Hango told New Era most of the children are born with the virus with the available statistics indicating that despite the elimination of mother-to-child transmission, there are still about 2% of children born with the virus.
“The low detection indicates that the HIV programme is working and the community is adhering to treatment. This is more evident in children who are on the Project Hope’s Namibia Adherence and Retention Project (NARP) programme,” he said.
The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) through USAID, targets orphans and vulnerable children in eight high-burden HIV regions of Namibia: Ohangwena, Kavango East, Kavango West, Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Zambezi, and Khomas.
As of June 2022, the project supported 24 821 orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia, of which 7 871 are HIV-positive, and on treatment, and of those, approximately three-quarters are virally suppressed.
Furthermore, the programme provides components of economic strengthening to help reduce the financial vulnerability of families and empower them to meet their essential needs.
Hango said Ohangwena has about 1 654 children living with HIV under the age of 18 while only 1 436 are enrolled on the adherence programme. These statistics date from March 2021 backwards.
“Adherence to ARV treatment leads to the low viral load in the blood and this means the transmission of the virus to the unborn baby or the other persons will be drastically minimized or eliminated,” explained Hango.
He stated that the importance of linking young Namibians to NARP is to make sure they have caregivers who are trained to support them physically, socially and psychologically at all times- eventually giving the children coping mechanisms.
During the announcement of this finding at Okambebe Clinic recently, acting USAID country representative Vann Rolfson shared that Once HIV cannot be detected in the blood, you are virally suppressed, which means that you cannot infect others anymore.
“This is yet another step for Namibia to reach the United Nations 95-95-95 goals. These UNAIDS 95-95-95 goals are that 95% of the HIV-positive population knows their status, 95% of those who know their status are on antiretroviral treatment
and that the viral load of 95% of those on treatment is suppressed and undetectable,” detailed Rolfson.
The health ministry recently launched its “Undetectable = Untransmittable” campaign on September 2022, reinforcing the importance of viral load suppression.
This project, combined with other activities led by the health ministry - such as transitioning children to newer and better medication and enrolling them in peer-supporting Teen Clubs - is part of the comprehensive package of services offered to them and adolescents living with HIV to achieve viral load suppression and to live a long and healthy life.
Since the launch of the programme in 2013, the United States government and its partners remain committed to reducing the impact, transmission, and spread of HIV through a comprehensive and community-based response. To date, the NARP project has supported more than 100 000 young Namibians.