Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Lisa Johnson at the launch of the Namibia National ART Guidelines

From L to R - Dr. Charles Sagoe-Moses, WHO Country Representative, U.S. Ambassador Lisa Johnson, Ms. Anne-Marie Nitschke, Director of Special Programmes, MoHSS and Honorable Minister of Health Kalumbi Shangula.

Launch for the National Guidelines for Antiretroviral Therapy, the Paediatric and Adolescents ART Package, and the CBART Evaluation report

U.S. Ambassador to Namibia, Lisa Johnson

Today is an exciting day. These new guidelines are making important changes in the way HIV positive patients will receive care and treatment. We also are launching several documents to support the Pediatric and Adolescents HIV Five-Year Strategic Plan, and the Community-Based ART (CBART) evaluation report.

Over the past year and a half, I have been privileged to travel to many Ministry of Health facilities across Namibia, including last week in the Zambezi region. During these visits, I have learned a lot about the incredible work that is being done to provide high quality HIV care and treatment services in Namibia.

I am excited about the positive changes these new guidelines will introduce. One of the most significant changes is the introduction of dolutegravir (DOLL-you-TEG-rav-ear) to the treatment recommendations. Dolutegravir has significant advantages over previously used ART regimens, including less side effects and a faster time to full viral suppression, which better prevents the spread of HIV infections.

The U.S. Government fully supports Namibia’s decision to transition to dolutegravir as the first line ART regimen for all eligible populations. I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Government, through PEPFAR, is procuring 95,000 one-month bottles of a combination known as TLD, which includes dolutegravir, and of dolutegravir alone, in order to ensure the Ministry has stock available immediately. Some of this consignment has already arrived, and the rest will be arriving in the coming months. Transition to these medications is planned to start in October, allowing this next month to be focused on training and orientation of the new guidelines.

Updating of guidelines is vital, because it pulls together the latest data into a usable format, allowing frontline health providers to provide the best quality of care to their patients. I know that you all have carefully considered the best way to do this through meetings and stakeholder engagements over the past two years.

I want to add my thanks today to every person who participated in the updating of these guidelines. Your experience, judgement, and decision-making is much valued in ensuring that this document is the best it can be and that it will have the largest possible impact.

Training is incredibly important for effective guidelines’ implementation. I am impressed that you have developed a simplified version of the guidelines in the form of a pocket guide, along with additional job aids.

I also am pleased to hear that the Ministry of Health will be working with PEPFAR to develop a mobile application-based version of the guidelines. This innovative use of technology in HIV management marks a new way for Namibia to expand the availability and easy access to the ART guidelines.

There are a number of other changes introduced in the guidelines. The option of multi-month scripting and dispensing for up to six months is another exciting addition. I am happy to hear that the Ministry of Health plans in the future to procure 90-180 day packaged units, which will enable individuals to have their medications for 3-6 months all in just one medicine container. This also will help clinics to become less busy.

By compiling a comprehensive pediatric and adolescent package of services, which includes the Adolescent Guidelines, Five-Year Strategic Plan, and teen club starter pack, the Ministry is working towards achieving success across all populations. This will ensure that no one is left behind as we strive for total HIV epidemic control in Namibia.

Finally, I am also excited about the CBART evaluation report. This report contains findings of which Namibia can truly be proud. We all know just how effective the community-based ART model of care has been, but this report provides a data-based justification for that assessment. The report show very clearly how much of an impact these services have on the quality of life of people living with HIV in rural areas. I would like to congratulate the Okongo and Eenhana communities in particular for showcasing the success of this model. It is a true reflection of bringing services to the people, and I congratulate you all on doing this so well.

In conclusion, I am pleased to join you in celebrating today’s milestones and look forward to the implementation of these new guidelines as we use these tools to serve Namibians across all communities.

Thank you