Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Jessica Long – USAID Food Voucher Distribution Oshakati

Deputy Chief of Mission, Jessica Long giving remarks at the USAID Food Voucher Distribution Oshakati

Thank you very much for the warm welcome and the opportunity to be here with you this morning to learn more about this innovative approach to ensure the food security of those who are most vulnerable and in need.

The U.S. government is committed to ensuring we sustain the gains we have made in controlling the HIV epidemic and reaching 95 – 95 – 95. So, 95 percent of people know their HIV status, 95 percent of those are on treatment, and 95 percent of those on treatment are virally suppressed.

We are getting close to this milestone thanks to the unwavering efforts of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, regional and local government, civil society partners and most importantly, the communities we serve.

According to the Namibia Vulnerability Assessment Committee led by the Office of the Prime Minister, 42% of households interviewed in 2019 were already severely food insecure. Results of this assessment suggest a significant increase in the number of people in need of urgent action to protect their livelihoods and increase food access.

Natural disasters, such as drought and pandemics such as COVID, have increased household vulnerability even further.

We know that years of drought have left families and communities in dire straits and that the effects of COVID-19 on the economy have further exacerbated the situation by leaving many people unemployed.

Malnutrition levels are increasing; families have exhausted almost all of their coping mechanisms and there is less and less food available. Social isolation, economic disadvantage, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood, gender-based violence, and school drop-out rates all contribute to girls’ risk and increase their vulnerability to contracting HIV.

An analysis conducted by the World Food Program in 2019 demonstrated that there is a strong relationship between national poverty, food insecurity, antiretroviral therapy adherence, and HIV prevalence. Regions with HIV prevalence rates above the national average, namely Zambezi, Oshana, Ohangwena, Kavango East and Kavango West are also characterized by very high food insecurity rates.

On the positive side, there is growing evidence that links food and nutrition security with an increase in health-seeking behavior, adherence to HIV and TB treatment, prevention of transmission of HIV among adolescent girls, and to a reduction in morbidity and in mortality among people living with HIV.

USAID seeks to support the Government in preventing COVID-19 and the previous drought from reversing the impressive developmental gains achieved through previous HIV investments and responses in Namibia. Addressing the short-term requirements of particularly vulnerable populations through food support targeting orphans, children, and their families, as well as key populations infected and affected by HIV, can help reduce the risks of HIV transmission, while also improving treatment compliance for those with HIV.

This project, funded by the U.S. government through USAID, and managed by the ACHIEVE Project implemented by JHPIEGO, will reach over 10,000 vulnerable children and adults with food vouchers. This is a first for the implementing partners – Project HOPE and IntraHealth Namibia – using food vouchers instead of food parcels to support their clients.

So, why food vouchers?

Using food vouchers can support local retailers and give families a wider range of choice to purchase what they need most to meet their urgent nutritional requirements. Using vouchers will also cut down on expensive transport costs, meaning more funds for food go directly to families in need.

We are very encouraged by this initiative and hope to hear more later this morning from the different participants as to their experience with the food vouchers.

We thank all of you here for your support and continued efforts to protect the health of all in Namibia and to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations, especially women and children, so that they may participate fully in everything the country has to offer and in turn make their contribution to national development.

Thank you again.