I am extremely proud to attend Namibia’s first HIV/AIDS conference in Windhoek with many of the people who are driving the HIV/AIDS response here, including members of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, UN agencies, support groups for People Living With HIV (PLHIV), U.S. government implementing agencies for PEPFAR including USAID, the business community and civil society groups like Project HOPE’s Namibia team.
The aim of the Namibia National AIDS Conference is to reach a consensus on how to end AIDS in Namibia by 2030. The 2015 HIV/AIDS report by UNAIDS revealed that more than 210,000 people are living with the virus in Namibia and more than 149,000 are on antiretroviral therapy (ART). According to UNAIDS, 18 million people are on ART worldwide.
The conference gives us an opportunity to share information on new interventions. Specifically, we are looking at UNAIDS recommendations, reviewing epidemiologic evidence, current strategic documents from the Namibian government and critically reviewing the current response in Namibia. At least 100 scientific and programmatic presentations have been showcased here and Project HOPE’s innovative work has been well represented for its contribution to the response. HOPE’s work on economic empowerment to improve PLHIV adherence to care and treatment was presented by Wilfred Luyanga and was included in the conference recommendations on the first day.
During the second day of the conference, HOPE’s work in electronic data capture, Community Based ART (CBART) Refills to improve adherence to lifesaving therapy was presented as well as our innovative ART Client tracing of people who stopped taking their medicines.
Project HOPE’s novel approach of targeting the homes and families of PLHIV for comprehensive health, economic and social services and how this approach has improved the lives of children infected with and affected by HIV was also showcased.
The consensus among delegates here is that if we are going to stop the epidemic in Namibia we will need to increase efforts and investments because aside from the challenges of starting in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Namibia, finishing the fight is most difficult part of this massive and complex effort. Namibia is a country where ending AIDS is possible and there is political will and financial commitment from the Namibian government to pursue this. It is clear that if we remain in the status quo, we will not end AIDS, but rather, the number of people living with HIV will continue to grow. To end AIDS here we will need a more targeted approach including HIV prevention by ensuring that young women are empowered, tested, receive and adhere to treatment. It is also crucial that older men who infect younger women are circumcised, tested, and adhere to ART to ensure that the virus is not in their bloodstream.
There is much work to be done to establish consensus and common action to end HIV in Namibia by 2030 and the Project HOPE Namibia team is deeply invested in collaborating with other stakeholders to develop innovative public health approaches to save lives.
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