Fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic

• By Vitalio Angula

“HIV concentration in 90% of children living with the virus in the Ohangwena region is so low that a blood test cannot detect HIV anymore.”

This was announced at an event at Okambebe in the Ohangwena region of northern Namibia on Thursday 13 October to celebrate the reaching of the milestone that nine out of ten children living with HIV and enrolled in the USAID-funded Namibia Adherence and Retention Project (NARP) by Project Hope Namibia in the Ohangwena region are virally suppressed.

NARP is a community-based project implemented by Project HOPE Namibia.

United States of America President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funds NARP through USAID.

NARP’s focus is on mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on targeted populations infected and affected by HIV, these include orphans, vulnerable children, primary caregivers and their families.

According to Beauty Kwenda, Chief of Party at NARP, the project works closely with stakeholders.

These include the ministries of Gender Equality, ministry charged with Poverty Eradication, Health and Social Services, Home Affairs, Immigration, safety and security, education, arts and culture, regional offices, other PEPFAR funded implementing partners as well as the private sector to address the many challenges that Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) and their caregivers face.

Kwenda said, comprehensive OVC services use a family centered approach to identify and address social challenges wh         ich affect health, education, safety and house hold stability.

“Trained community care workers visit households and conduct assessments to identify needs and offer adherence and psychosocial support,” Kwenda explained.

The service also reminds caregivers of scheduled follow-up appointments at health facilities.

It identifies those who have missed appointments or have stopped taking their ARV medication and supports them to get back to the health facilities and re-start treatment.

“Community care workers work with families to develop individual case management plans on how to address the identified needs,” Kwenda said.

“Other interventions implemented by the project include the provision of short-term emergency household support, group-based interventions which are provided for in schools in collaboration with life skills teachers, groups of caregivers who receive education and training on positive parenting, financial literacy and business training. Caregivers also engage in group savings and loaning to meet immediate basic needs and for income generating projects,” Kwenda explained.

Overall, a total number of 24 821 OVC beneficiaries are active and receiving services from the project.

This number includes 7871 children living with HIV.

“Since the project started in 2013, it has supported over 100 000 beneficiaries”, Kwenda informed Confidente.

According to Ben Nangombe, Executive Director at the Ministry of Health and Social Services a total estimate of 222 000 people in Namibia are living with HIV.

Out of these a total of 195 714 are on treatment.

Nangombe informed Confidente that available data shows adolescent girls and young women bear a disproportionate burden of HIV compared to their male counterparts.

The Namibia Population Based HIV Impact assessment (NAMPHIA) 2017 shows that HIV incidence was higher among women aged 15-24 years (0.99%) than men aged 15-24 years (0.03%).

Nangombe, said when a person who is infected with HIV adheres to the treatment regiment it results in viral suppression.

“The test can no longer pick it up, HIV is detected in the blood, however, we have found that in 90% of children on treatment, the virus is undetectable and thus untransmissible, what this also means is that even though a person may be HIV positive, over time they might not be able to pass it on, and this signifies progress being made in the fight to combat HIV and AIDS as a public health crisis,” Nangombe told Confidente.

He further said Namibia has made sufficient strides in the implementation of 95-95-95 fast track program that aims at ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.

The 95-95-95 targets that by 2030, 95% of people living with HIV know their status, 95% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 95% of people on treatment have suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Fast-Track also includes ambitious targets for HIV prevention and zero discrimination. This includes major reductions in new HIV infections, particularly among the populations most affected, and the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices in health care settings.”