Remarks by the U.S. Ambassador to Namibia at the launch of two Ministry of Health reports

Ambassador Lisa Johnson (2nd from right) launching the 2 studies accompanied from L to R by Mr. Benjamin Nangombe, Executive Director; Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, Minister, MOHSS; Dr. Ndapewa Hamunime, Senior HIV Advisor, MOHSS & Mrs Annie-Marie Nitschke, Director, Special Programs, MOHSS

“Determining the Cost of Providing HIV Care and Treatment, Including the Achievement of Viral Suppression, to Patients at Antiretroviral Therapy Sites in Namibia” and “Assessment of Community Adherence Club Implementation in Namibia’s HIV Programme, July 2020”

Good afternoon!

The United States Government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has been in Namibia since 2005 supporting the Namibian HIV program to provide quality HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. Together, we have made incredible progress, saving lives and strengthening health systems.

Because of the achievements we have made in the last 15 years, today HIV is a chronic condition that can be controlled. Today, by taking the medicine prescribed, someone living with HIV can live a long and healthy life full of potential, just like anyone else.

We have achieved so much together. So what’s next? What do we need to do “tomorrow”?

First, there are still people living with HIV who do not know their status and who need to get on to treatment. We need to make sure that anyone who needs an HIV test can get tested and, if HIV positive, can start treatment right away.

This is because we know that the sooner someone gets onto treatment and stays on treatment, the sooner the virus can be suppressed, keeping the patient healthy. We also know that the sooner the virus is suppressed, the sooner we can stop the virus from being passed on, keeping others healthy too.

The costing study being launched today has shown us another reason why it is so important to get people living with HIV onto treatment as soon as possible.

This study has shown us that the average cost to treat stable HIV positive patients is 2-3 times lower than the cost to treat unstable HIV positive patients. A stable patient is someone who has suppressed the virus in his or her body and does not have any of the other infections that can develop when HIV is uncontrolled.

This is a big difference in cost of care, and incredibly important when we consider that HIV is a long-term condition. Reducing the cost of care over a person’s lifetime has huge implications for the care budget.

Imagine when you are buying your groceries this weekend. When you get to the checkout, you find out that your bill is half what it normally is. You would be so happy.

Imagine that when you are shopping for Christmas presents for your child, the toy your child really wants is discounted by two-thirds. You would be thrilled.

Now imagine the money saved if the cost of care for about 204,000 people living with HIV is 2-3 times lower than it was previously. That is all of our Christmases rolled into one.

PEPFAR is proud that through transparent, accountable, and efficient investments, we are partners in health with Namibia working to support the lifesaving and cost-effective treatment of about 204,000 persons living with HIV,.

This study shows us that being healthy is not just better for the individual, it is better for the country, too.

This year has shown us a new example of the devastating impact of infectious disease. COVID-19 has changed our lives. The cost impact of COVID-19 on individuals, and on the health system, has been huge. By reducing the cost of HIV care, money is available for other needs. Namibia can be proud to say that it is in a better position to respond to COVID-19 and other illnesses because of the strong HIV prevention, care and treatment program that is in place.

We know that it costs less money to treat a stable person living with HIV, but how can we make sure that people living with HIV keep the virus under control?

This is where the second study being launched today comes in.

This study shows that a treatment model designed to support stable patients, Community Adherence Groups (or CAGs), is effective at doing just that.

A community adherence group is a group of 6-12 stable HIV positive patients who meet on a regular basis in their community rather than going to the clinic to receive their medication. When the members meet to get their medicine, which one member has picked up from the clinic for everyone, they also receive counselling and support. This helps the patients stay strong and stay on their medicine.

By helping each other stay strong, the community adherence group members keep taking their HIV medicine despite challenges that may come their way, and by doing so, they stay healthy.

Over 12,300 people in Namibia are members of community adherence groups. But over 204,000 people are currently taking HIV medicine in Namibia. This means there is much work still to be done to help patients join community adherence groups,, if they choose this option. There is also an opportunity to strengthen this model to provide support for other chronic conditions as well.

There is plenty of work for us still to do today and tomorrow.

The reports launched today provide the Ministry of Health and Social Services with guidance to support effective programming. They ensure the HIV program in Namibia is based on what we know works.

Together we are stronger. And that is one thing we can be sure will not change tomorrow.

Thank you.