As World Aids Day is commemorated this week around the world, we need to pause and think about what we can learn from our HIV ordeal.
Namibia has made great strides in HIV prevention, detection and treatment.
As we remember the progress made over less than 40 years, the country, with limited resources and expertise, has managed a once daunting pandemic by allowing the scientists space, time and resources to study and develop solutions.
Back in the 1980s, conspiracy theories about HIV were also spread left, right and centre.
Many believed the US developed the virus to attack its Cold War enemies, that only gay people would get it, whereas others believed Africans had sex with primates and in that way contracted HIV.
As recent as 2008, then South African president Thabo Mbeki questioned the link between HIV/AIDS.
His health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang defied scientific evidence of the causes and treatment of AIDS and stalled rollout of anti-retroviral drugs.
She instead promoted the benefits of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and beetroot over antiretrovirals as HIV treatment.
Namibia had taken the sensible route and allowed the scientist to suggest solutions.
With the political will to deal with the HIV situation, the extended education campaigns and the scientific approach to the issue of Namibia largely succeeded in dealing with HIV/AIDS.
The country was one of the first to offer free antiretroviral treatment and combined State, as well as international and NGO knowledge and resources effectively.
Today, Namibia is often mentioned as a leader in the fight against HIV.
Many live productive lives for decades after testing positive.
In 2021, Namibia reached the UNAIDS HIV 90-90-90 targets: for 90% of all people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of those to be placed on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment to have the HIV suppressed within their systems form the foundation for the approaches required to move from impact and control to bring an end to Aids.
At the end of May 2021, Namibia had recorded 830 deaths from Covid-19, an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that was first discovered, and spread like wildfire from China to the world from January 2020.
The coronavirus had shut the entire planet down for most of 2020 and some of 2021.
In March 2021, Namibia had just started a vaccination programme that stuttered and stumbled into gear as rich countries hogged the life-saving inoculations for its citizens.
The programme would temporarily halt around July, as the country was a sitting duck, losing hundreds in just two months.
The vaccine programme restarted, and enough vaccines from a wide variety of manufacturers are available.
But the country has lost valuable time and resources, as large quantities of vaccines bought at astronomical prices expire unused.
The arrival of a new coronavirus variant this week has thrown the cat well and truly among the pigeons.
Through questionable ‘experts’ spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories faster than it can be debunked, everything is questioned by people who claim to be thinking for themselves and are not sheep but who would rather use Ivermectin, used in animals for prevention of and treatment of certain internal and external parasites.
So far, the government has dilly-dallied and allowed Namibians to voluntarily take the jab saying it would not force citizens to take the vaccine and not trample on anyone’s rights.
This is not good enough.
A fire has broken out in a crowded theatre and there’s only one exit. We can’t slowly stand up and offer a speech. We need action!
Thousands have lost jobs as a result of the lockdowns and many more would if that would be the option again.
Government should realise that the unvaccinated are posing a public health risk that we can ill afford.
It’s time to enforce vaccines or limit the movement of those who stubbornly believe the misinformation spread by the quacks online.
We have spent vast amounts of money to buy vaccines, the Covid-19 education campaigns continue, the only part missing is the political will.
We’ve already lost over 3 573 people to Covid-19 in just over a year.
It’s time to show there’s political will to end this.