It is an honour to be with you today to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day.
The focus of our partnership with the Namibian government remains on ‘Ending the HIV epidemic, working on Equitable access and Hearing everyone’s voice’ which is also the United States government’s theme for this year’s World AIDS Day.
As President Biden highlighted in his statement today, the U.S government is committed to ensuring that all have access to quality, people-centred HIV prevention and treatment services.
Democracies must serve all their citizens, so it is crucial that we hear and value the diverse voices of all affected ages, genders and population groups in the AIDS response.
I would like to share three examples to highlight the importance of listening and inviting more input to continue to improve our programs.
When we listened to everyone’s voice, we learned that people living in rural communities needed easier access to medication. Together with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, PEPFAR supported the establishment of Community Adherence Groups in Namibia (CAG). The groups deliver Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for six to12 stable patients and provide a platform for group-based adherence counselling and support. In a CAG, one member from the group travels to the clinic or health centre to collect the ARVs for all the group members.
CAGs make it easier for People Living with HIV to access their treatment. I visited with three CAGS yesterday and heard members describe the difference it made that we heard them and acted on their message.
Another example, in one region of Namibia, we heard that a civil society organisation that works with men who have sex with men, was hesitant to send their clients to the local health clinic.
The Regional Health Director called together the civil society organisation and a health clinic and they developed a lovely model that made them confident that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, lifestyle, gender or race will be treated with dignity and respect and receive the help that they needed.
This is a good example of how Namibian officials, CSOs and the PEPFAR program are advancing equity in healthcare to achieve our goals.
Third example, we heard from Adolescent Girls and Young Women that too often, sex was often coerced or as a result of violence from teachers or abusive boyfriends or others. We expanded our programs to empower them emotionally and economically. We now have a new government-to-government agreement with the Ministry of youth and sports to work with adolescent girls and young women and their partners to stop gender based violence and HIV. We want to continue to hear your voices and ensure equitable and effective programming.
Namibian’s great strides in controlling the epidemic can be attributed to the effective systems and services put in place by the Namibian government and civil society, with support from development partners such as the United States government through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
I want to pause to highlight that PEPFAR has supported the public health, clinical care and laboratory platforms that have become vital in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. The same program that in partnership with the Namibian government has saved thousands of lives from HIV, is now working to save lives from COVID-19.
The U.S. Government is proud to have donated over 225,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This is the vaccine that I got, and I encourage anyone who is not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated. Children 12 years and over can now be vaccinated with Pfizer vaccines in Namibia. Please get vaccinated!
The COVID-19 and HIV fight are not only reserved for the government alone. As you see from my examples, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, media, the private sector, marginalised communities, including LGBTQI+ populations, and most importantly, people living with HIV and those affected by the virus all have a role to play.
It is this strong partnership that has ensured that we all work together to achieve a common goal – to ensure the health of the Namibian people.
As we continue to work towards ‘Ending inequalities, Ending AIDS and Ending pandemics, it is fitting that the country’s theme is ‘Access to HIV Health Care Services in Namibia amidst COVID-19’.
I want to thank the Namibian government and Ministry of Health and Social Services for our continued strong partnership and the Ministry of Youth and Sports for our new partnership. On this commemoration of World AIDS Day, I commit once again to this partnership, together we will reach HIV epidemic control.