Today marks the first day of the 2018 Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) HIV/AIDS Wellness Campaign.
I trust that all of you have heard a lot about HIV before today. So I hope you already are well-equipped with information about how you can protect yourselves from contracting HIV, what to do if you think you may have been infected, and what you need to do if you are HIV positive.
Recent data shows that Namibian girls and young women between the ages of 15 – 24 are especially at risk of contracting HIV. Research also shows that a cycle of HIV infection exists between older men and younger women. What happens is, when an HIV positive older man has unprotected sex with a young woman, he infects her with HIV. If she does not get tested and start anti-retroviral treatment (ART), she in turn risks passing the virus on to her future sexual partners, including young men of her own age. This vicious cycle of HIV infection is negatively impacting the aspirations of Namibia’s youth, and it must be stopped. You all have a role to play in finding solutions.
The U.S. government and the Ministry of Health and Social Services are working together to develop programs designed to tackle specific, identified challenges in combating HIV/AIDS. For example, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has introduced the DREAMS program, which helps to ensure that adolescent girls and young women receive the support they need to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe.
We have been rolling out this program in Namibia and we are confident that with this support, young Namibian women will be better protected against factors that cause them to represent the highest number of new HIV cases. And with this support, they also will be better positioned to achieve their dreams.
Now, you are probably wondering, what about the boys and young men? Well, we have initiatives such as the voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) campaign, with The Dogg serving as the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ VMMC Ambassador. The VMMC campaign educates both young and older men about the benefits of circumcision, and how it protects them from contracting HIV. Studies have shown that when a man is circumcised, his chances of contracting HIV are reduced by 60 percent.
Data also shows that men are less likely to seek out health services, and this includes getting tested for HIV. To all Namibia’s young men and boys, I would encourage you to be the masters of your own destiny and get tested for HIV. Not getting tested creates a dangerous risk of untreated infection that can damage your own health and be transmitted to your partners.
Namibia’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS cannot be successful if all Namibians, including young men, do not make use of the services provided. Young men can help close the current testing gap, and they can be leaders in Namibia in helping to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to bring about an AIDS-free generation.
In closing, I wish you an education-packed HIV/AIDS wellness campaign today and tomorrow. The young people of Namibia are the future of this country and should take the lead in making healthy and smart decisions to keep them safe from HIV.
Take advantage of programs in place, and seek to widen your understanding of HIV. Your coursework will teach you the skills to succeed in your professional life. Allow this week’s program to equip you with the knowledge to stay safe, prevent the spread of HIV, and ensure that your lives are long and healthy.