Remarks by the CDC Country Director at the launch of the Roadmap for the Elimination of MTCT and Congenital Syphilis

CDC Country Director in Namibia, Dr. Eric Dziuban

Dr Eric Dziuban,

“All you need is a plan, the roadmap, and the courage to press on to your destination”, by Earl Nightingale.

This quote is by an American motivational speaker and radio personality. While it was written many years ago, it is perfect for today. We had the plan, we have the roadmap, and I know that the members of the National Validation Committee also have the courage to complete the task at hand.

As a pediatrician, I am passionate about the wellbeing of children so you won’t be surprised when I say that I am a champion for the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV.

In 2020, no child should be born HIV positive.

In 2020, no child should be infected with HIV during breastfeeding.

In 2020, every child should grow up HIV free.

This is our duty to the children of Namibia.

As we inaugurate the National Validation Committee today, I urge you all to take this membership seriously. Please strive to do your best. Please be committed to attend these meetings. Please review material presented to the committee with a close eye to the detail needed to make the plans made a reality.

Please do everything in your power to make sure that we implement this roadmap.

An innocent child has no control over whether he or she is born HIV free, or HIV positive.

We do.

We have a role and a responsibility to protect the children of Namibia and to ensure that every child is born HIV free.

I have seen firsthand the devasting impact untreated HIV has on children. While working as a doctor in Swaziland, I treated many children who were born HIV positive and who were not on treatment. I have battled to help these children reverse the damage this virus has caused on their bodies. I have cried tears with families as children have sickened and died. I cannot change the past, but I can change the future.

That is why I am here today.

If I could name one thing I would like to see achieved during my time as Country Director for the CDC in Namibia, it is the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV. This goal is within our grasp and it can be achieved. Please do your best for the children of Namibia.

As you are all aware, the elimination of mother to child transmission goes together with the elimination of congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis is so serious it can lead to death. No child should be born with or die from this bacteria.

It is preventable. It is possible to eliminate. The children of Namibia need our protection.

Even more so than HIV, syphilis is a condition that people do not want to talk about. It is an illness that comes with a whole package of stigma and that is something we need to address. We cannot have children born with congenital syphilis because one or other parent was too embarrassed to seek help. We cannot have children born with congenital syphilis because one or other parent did not know what illness they have because no one talks about infections “down below.” As shy as it can make us to talk about sexually transmitted infections, we need to shine a light on those infections “down below.” We need to be clear, direct and open. We need to ensure that people know the signs and symptoms of sexually transmitted infections and how to get the treatment they need.

This is perhaps where you will need the most courage. To address issues that we do not feel comfortable talking about. But we must be leaders in these discussions. We must highlight and address the issues directly so that people in the villages and towns across Namibia have the information they need to keep themselves, and their families, healthy.

As I close, I want to give you a quote from a famous book about a journey along a road, a yellow brick road to be precise (the story is the Wizard of Oz of course).

“It is not where you go, it’s who you meet along the way”

This roadmap is not just a plan on a piece of paper. It shows the direction we must take to save lives. There are many people to meet along the way whose lives will be changed because of this roadmap.

PEPFAR is supporting the Ministry of Health and Social Services to keep 204,000 people living with HIV on life-saving treatment. PEPFAR is focused on the populations that we know are often missed – such a as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and men. By following the guidance in this roadmap, and using other innovative approaches, we can reach these people in the community and at facilities.

We need to make sure that women who are HIV positive and are pregnant or breastfeeding get tested and get on treatment. We need to make sure that men who do not know that they have HIV or syphilis and are passing it to their partners, get tested and get on treatment. PEPFAR is proud to be working with Namibia to save lives.

On behalf of the U.S. Government, I congratulate you all on its launch and on the inauguration of the National Validation Committee.

Thank you