Nearly 210 000 people in Namibia are living with HIV, of whom 24 300 are young people between the ages of 15 to 24.
This is according to statistics shared by health authorities in the Oshana region during World AIDS Day commemorations on Friday.
The day’s remembrance was centred around raising awareness of the stigma attached to children living with the virus.
The Oshana region contributes 11% of the 210 000 people living with HIV countrywide.
In the region, 93% of people living with HIV know their HIV status and 98% of people living with the virus are on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), exceeding the target, and 95% on ART are virally suppressed.
In 2022, the region recorded 639 new HIV infections amongst adults aged 15 and above, representing 12% of the total number of new infections nationally. HIV incidences among people aged 15 to 49 in the Oshana region are higher than the national average.
At the commemoration at the Negongo Primary School in Okapya of the Okaku constituency, Oshana health director Johanna Haimene said in a speech read on her behalf that HIV/AIDS extends beyond the individuals infected and widens the gap of inequality, exacerbates poverty, and hinders economic development.
“HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Despite significant progress in prevention, treatment and awareness, millions of people around the world are still affected by the virus,” she said.
Haimene promised that they will fight against the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS, and look towards a future where no one is suffering from the disease.
“Antiretroviral therapy has revolutionised the management of this disease, allowing individuals to live long and healthy lives. We must address the barriers which prevent people from accessing these life-saving medications such as cost, stigma and limited healthcare infrastructures. By expanding access to treatment, we can not only improve the health of individuals, but also prevent further transmission of the virus,” said Haimene.
In the //Kharas region, Keetmanshoop mayor McDonald Hanse said the fight against HIV/AIDS requires continued dedication and collective action.
“Today, we join hands not only in remembrance, but also in unity as we acknowledge the global fight against HIV/AIDS… As a community, we must stand together to raise awareness, eliminate stigma and provide support to those impacted by the disease,” he noted.
Hanse urged the community to stand together to demonstrate resilience and strength in fighting the virus, despite various challenges.
The town council’s management committee chairperson Johannes Vries reminded the public that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate and affects individuals regardless of their background, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
“Our mission today is to foster understanding, dispel myths and eradicate the stigma that surrounds this condition. As a community, we must champion education, promote inclusivity and offer unwavering support to those affected,” he urged.
Vries then called on stakeholders to embark on a journey towards a world where compassion prevails, stigma crumbles, and HIV/AIDS is no longer a barrier to a life of dignity and fulfilment.
Serolda Golley, acting senior health programme officer for the Directorate of Special Programmes at the //Kharas regional health directorate, said it is sad that the region is still struggling with the stigma of those living with the virus.
The region is committed to achieving the UNAIDS’ 95-95-95 targets, namely that 95% of all people living with HIV should know their HIV status, 95% who know their HIV-positive status should be on treatment, and 95% of those receiving treatment should have suppressed viral loads.
“We do, however, have a fourth target – the patient’s quality of life,” she added.
Golley said a total of 111 children between the ages of zero to 19 are currently living with HIV/AIDS. Amongst them, 27 are nine years and above, and are fully disclosed.
Omaheke regional commemorations saw Gobabis mayor Melba Tjozongoro pleading for more funding towards community-based organisations in their fight against HIV/AIDS.
In a speech read on her behalf, she said community-based organisations like Lironga Eparu and Ombetja Yehinga had in the years gone by done a wonderful job in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, they became dormant mainly because of the discontinuation of financial support from the government and other agencies which were supporting this cause.
The fight against HIV/AIDS was further aggravated by the global outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, to which resources were diverted.
“I am calling upon the government and all stakeholders to financially support the community-based organisations’ plans and programmes, formulations, budgets, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Community leadership roles need to be fully and reliably funded by government and donor agencies to enable the required results in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and properly supported and remunerated,” Tjozongoro said.
Also speaking at the event was Omaheke governor Pijoo Nganate, who observed that it is vital to engage communities as key role-players in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and called on communities to take the lead by meaningfully engaging in the design and delivery of integrated sexual reproductive health and rights and HIV programmes.
“I, therefore, urge communities and individuals to use all preventative measures put in place to ensure that this virus is curbed from spreading further.
Word AIDS Day is commemorated to alert us as communities of the seriousness of the HIV and AIDS disease, and give us information on fruitful interventions and measures to utilise to curb and prevent further HIV infections, as well as to support those living with the virus in our communities,” Nganate stated.