Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Thomas F. Daughton at the Official Handover of Acceleration Plan Vehicles to Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) Directorate of Special Programs
Good morning! It is a real pleasure for me to be back at the Ministry of Health and Social Services today to participate in another event marking our longstanding, close cooperation in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
As we heard on Monday from UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, Namibia has made remarkable progress in containing the spread of HIV/AIDS in this country over the past 15 years. Most of that progress has been due to the hard work of the Ministry of Health and Social Services – of the people in this room – in expanding HIV/AIDS prevention services across the country and significantly increasing access to HIV counseling, testing, and treatment. The Ministry rightfully deserves strong praise for its accomplishments.
But, as we all know, Namibia is a vast country, and one of contrasts. Distances between health facilities, shortages of skilled health care providers, limited infrastructure, difficult terrain – all of these things contribute to the reality that not all of Namibia’s people have access to the same health services.
Despite the extraordinary strides that have been made by the Namibian government and its development partners, including the United States, in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic here, I think we all understand that important work remains to be done to achieve our ultimate goal of an AIDS-free generation in Namibia. I want you all to know that my government remains committed to defeating the epidemic in Namibia and achieving that AIDS-free generation. That’s why we have been working with the Ministry this year to accelerate the provision of treatment services to HIV patients in Namibia.
One thing that has become apparent even to someone like me who is not a medical professional is that in order to control the epidemic and allow people living with HIV to live normal, healthy lives, we need to decentralize ART services by increasing the number of ART sites. Basically, people living with HIV need to be able to access treatment or they won’t take it. With that in mind, last year a technical team from the Ministry of Health and Social Services and from PEPFAR Namibia analyzed available data to identify the districts in Namibia where the HIV/AIDS burden is the highest and where health care staff with the required skills is insufficient to deliver effective HIV/AIDS care. The data showed that the facilities in those districts are where expansion of ART services is needed most to realize the National Strategic Framework target of 95% ART coverage among eligible patients. With the results of that analysis, we have been working with the Ministry to help fill the gaps and continue the process of decentralizing ART services.
One important gap-filling effort PEPFAR has undertaken is in increasing the number of skilled health care staff. In the past year, CDC and USAID have recruited 14 new Clinical Mentors and Nurse Mentors who are based in the identified high-HIV-burden districts. The mentors work with doctors and nurses in hospitals and clinics across the districts they are assigned to, providing advice, skills updates and continuing medical education to ensure the best possible provision of ART services to the highest number of patients.
But the mentors have to get around to the different facilities in their districts – and some of the districts are big and have lots of sandy roads. So PEPFAR has purchased a total of 17 vehicles to facilitate access to the hard-to-reach clinics in the high-need districts. In August, I handed over six of the vehicles in Ongwediva for districts in that region. Today, I have the pleasure to hand over to the Ministry an additional 11 vehicles, valued at N$6 million, to help bring ART services to the people who need them most in the communities where they live. These 11 vehicles will be used to carry HIV services to populations in ten districts: Oshakati, Outapi, Tsandi, Okahao, Engela, Okongo, Eenhana, Katima Mulilo, Rundu and Windhoek.
Our joint aim is to continue to prevent new HIV infections, to control the epidemic, and to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target. As Michel Sidibe reminded us this week, this country stands on the verge of that achievement, and the United States is proud to support Namibia as it moves towards those goals.
In closing, I want to thank the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the honorable Minister in particular for their partnership with my government to promote public health and work towards an AIDS-free generation in Namibia. We look forward to continuing our partnership in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and to achieving the vision of an AIDS-free generation – together. Thank you.