Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Thomas F. Daughton at the Official Handover of Prefabricated Containers to Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP)
Engela District Hospital
Good morning, and thank you all for joining us today to mark an important milestone in the provision of high-quality HIV treatment to Namibians living with HIV in this district. It’s important because today we are making critical laboratory services directly accessible to more than 14,000 Namibians in Engela.
I have come to Engela today to thank the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) for the amazing work they are doing in making services more available to Namibians who need them. The United States is working closely with the government here to ensure that HIV services, including HIV testing and treatment services. While I have the opportunity, let me add a special thanks to the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and all the healthcare workers and support staff who are working hard every day to provide quality treatment to their patients.
I know that some of you are thinking, “Sure, but we’re only talking about a laboratory!” Believe me, there is no such thing as “only a laboratory.” Currently, there are more than 14,500 people on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment in the Engela district. And we know that the best way to monitor HIV in patients who are on antiretroviral drugs is routinely to check the amount of virus that is circulating in their blood through HIV viral load testing.
But that kind of testing requires specialized equipment and specially trained technicians to run it. The laboratory container that we will hand over this morning is one of two that will be used as new viral load testing sites in this part of the country. Doing the tests in this new lab here at Engela hospital will get the results back much faster to those who need them. That speed is important because healthcare workers will be able quickly to make the appropriate clinical decisions that are key to keeping HIV patients healthier.
The United States has been working with the Namibian government for more than a decade to fight HIV and AIDS in this country. These days, our joint fight has reached the point where we’re talking seriously about achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets. What that means is identifying 90% of all people who are HIV positive, getting 90% of them on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and – and this is where this new lab comes in – making sure that the virus in 90% of the people on treatment is fully suppressed, or in other words, fully under control.
One of the things we’ve learned in our decade of fighting HIV side-by-side with the Namibian government is that in order to achieve our common goal of epidemic control, patients living with HIV have to be able to receive quality care and quality testing close to their homes. That’s why the United States is supporting HIV testing both at district health facilities and in rural communities like Engela.
Currently only the Oshakati Laboratory can conduct viral load testing in this part of the country. Other tests have to be sent to Windhoek, which creates delays and raises the problem of the samples expiring before they can be tested. As a result, right now the Engela Laboratory can only cover 38% of the district’s viral load testing needs. This new laboratory will allow testing of up to 12,600 viral loads per year here at Engela. In other words, it will be able to cover all the district’s needs. This initiative will strengthen the ability of the Ministry of Health and Social Services to meet the continuing demand for viral load testing and it will reduce the turnaround time of the results.
That means improved HIV services that will enhance the quality of life of people living with HIV in Engela.
If you take away one message today it should be that testing is crucial. For us to achieve the 90-90-90 targets together, we have to achieve three T’s: we need to Test people so they know their HIV status; we need to Treat the virus in HIV-positive people with medication; and then we need to Test their blood to make sure the medicine is keeping the virus in their bodies fully under control. With this new laboratory, we can achieve the third “90” here in Engela.
But we’re not stopping here: our target is to reach 100% viral load testing coverage across the country. To get there, we are maintaining our commitment to strengthen the Namibian government’s viral load testing capacity. Our partner in that effort is the Namibia Institute of Pathology. As long as the United States has been engaged in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Namibia, we have been working with the NIP. Since 2004, the American Government has invested more than US$18 million (N$ 270 million) in the NIP in order to strengthen laboratory services so that Namibians can receive the vital, high-quality HIV services they need. We’re extremely proud of what the NIP has accomplished and continues to accomplish every day. And we’re committed to continuing to work with the Ministry of Health and Social Services and with NIP to ensure that the high-quality services NIP provides can be extended to patients in remote areas of the country.
Our contribution today is not limited to the container itself. This container and the other one like it that I will hand over this afternoon at the Onandjokwe District Hospital in Oshikoto are also equipped with all the modern lab equipment that’s required to conduct a viral load test. So when this lab is operational, more people who are failing treatment will be identified and treated earlier. That will mean fewer complications and less expensive care over the long term.
In conclusion I want to congratulate the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Namibia Institute of Pathology for their continuing efforts to expand services to the Namibian people. Keep up the good work!