Congratulations Namibia! I am very proud to be here today because I was invited to speak when the new pediatric HIV medicine was introduced to Namibia just over a year ago, and I have closely watched the progress made since then. The child version of DTG (I understand that we call it “pediatric DTG”) was introduced in August 2021 which was just as the country was coming out of the third, devastating wave of COVID-19. That made it harder to introduce a new medicine to the country but that did not deter the team. I had the privilege to participate in a recorded Zoom call with Dr. Ashipala, the Chief Medical Officer at the Directorate of Special Programs within the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which was shared on social media and the internet. I learned a lot during our conversation about this new medicine, and I hope the public did too. What stood out for me was the description that it tastes like strawberry crème (I love strawberries! And so do most kids) and how it is more effective than other HIV medicines (I always appreciate things that work better!).
In barely more than a year, the Ministry of Health and Social Services and partners have made sure that every child eligible for this new, more effective HIV medicine has access to it. Ensuring that people, particularly children, have access to the best possible medicine is a monumental achievement. I am very proud to be here today to celebrate the fact that all children and adolescents in Namibia now have access to HIV medicines that are effective, have few side effects and are easy to take.
Even when a medicine is easy to take, like those with DTG, it can still be hard for children to keep taking it every day. For chronic diseases such as HIV, the medicine must be taken every day to keep the virus under control and to stay healthy. I want to encourage all children and adolescents living with HIV to keep on taking their medication. This medication is what we call a first-line medicine because it is the best and first choice medicine. Staying on the first line medicine for as long as possible is the best way to stay healthy.
I am very aware of the role parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers play in supporting children and adolescents living with HIV every day. Your roles are so important in ensuring your children stay on their medication. You remind them to take their medicine, you help them build a routine where they remember to take it themselves, and you strengthen their self-confidence to always have the courage to take their medicine every day so they can live their best life. Behind every child who has learned to keep taking his or her medicine, and who believes in him or herself is a parent, caregiver and healthcare worker who believed in them first. Thank you for everything that you do.
The U.S. Government is proud to have supported the Government of Namibia to ensure all children living with HIV have the option to take the best HIV medicine for them. Knowing the benefits this medicine brings to children and adolescents has been a huge motivation for the team involved, from the procurement team, to the logistics team, to the healthcare providers and technical teams bringing the medicine to communities. On behalf of the people employed by the U.S. Government that have supported this progress, I can tell you that we are all so proud to be here today. The U.S. team has provided support in so many areas. For example, we worked with the Ministry of Health to make the first procurements of the DTG regimens. We worked with the Ministry on developing educational materials that provide guidance to healthcare workers and clinical mentors on how to get all 11,700 plus children living with HIV in Namibia transitioned to this new medicine. We also worked closely with the Ministry to track how well the transition was going, working together to develop plans to maintain momentum to ensure that all eligible children and adolescents were reached as quickly as possible. Through the PEPFAR OVC program, we also work with caregivers to ensure that children adhere to treatment, are retained in treatment, and are virally suppressed. On behalf of the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I commend all the hard work that has gone into this transition. To our implementing partners, ITECH, PSM, and Project HOPE Namibia, thank you for the work you have done to bring this medicine to the children of Namibia.
There was a time, not that many years ago when there was no medicine for HIV. When people were dying from AIDS. When children were losing parents and caregivers, and when families were losing their children to a disease that had no treatment. We have come so far. It is a huge relief to know that we have medicine that means HIV is a chronic condition that can be managed. We are proud to have supported the Ministry of Health and Social Services with this transition and on behalf of the U.S. Government, I congratulate the leadership that has ensured that we reach this milestone. It is not by accident that Namibia has one of the most effective HIV-related programs in the world – it has been the hard work of the Namibian government, the PEPFAR program, and Namibian citizens and implementing partners.
Congratulations everyone on this transition and may we meet again to celebrate more milestones together.