Today is a remarkable day. The results presented here today show that Namibia is one of the countries leading the world in implementation of a successful national response to end the HIV epidemic.
Namibia, I congratulate you. I especially want to congratulate the women of Namibia for having already achieved the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets two years ahead of the goal. This finding is important, especially in light of the fact that women are more likely than men to be HIV positive.
As we heard, the NAMPHIA results show 15.7% HIV prevalence among women, compared to 9.3% among men. In fact, a Namibian woman between the ages of 20 to 24 is two to three times more likely to be HIV positive than a man her age.
We are still seeing six new HIV infections every single day among Namibian girls and women aged 15 to 24 years old.
Yet, Namibia women are prevailing. Even though they are more likely to be HIV positive, they also are more likely to be tested, on treatment, and virally suppressed.
The fact that HIV positive Namibian women get and stay on treatment is a success story not just for individuals, but for the whole country. It takes courage to take an HIV test. It takes commitment to stay on treatment. And it takes a well-functioning healthcare system to provide services that allow people to stay on treatment.
The excellent test and treatment results among women are also good for the children of Namibia. If a woman is HIV positive, on treatment, and stays on treatment, the risk of passing the virus to her child during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding is extremely low. I have visited clinics in four regions so far to congratulate families and healthcare providers at clinics where there were zero cases of mother-to-child transmission in 2017.
Today’s launch is about the big picture of Namibia’s success as a country and internationally. However, it is the individual stories that help remind us of how important it is to keep striving towards epidemic control. And that is my first take-away message for today. This is not the end. The 90:90:90 targets are a milestone, not the end of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Namibia already recognizes this by having set a target to achieve 95:95:95 by 2020, as outlined in the National Strategic Framework for HIV.
My second message is that while Namibia can, and should, be celebrating the results so far, we must not lose sight of the areas of concern. There are many disparities within the HIV epidemic in Namibia. I have already talked about the vulnerability of Namibia’s girls and young women. But so too are young men.
We know that many young men don’t want to know their status and get on treatment. We need to do whatever it takes to involve the men. This is not a problem unique to Namibia, but I do believe that Namibia – the land of the brave — can find unique solutions.
There also are regional disparities. Take the example of the Kunene region. This region has the lowest prevalence of HIV, but also has the lowest rate of viral load suppression for those who are HIV positive. This means that while the spread of HIV in Kunene is far less than in regions such as Zambezi, if a person becomes infected with HIV in Kunene, the treatment outcome is not yet as good as it can be.
In contrast, in the Zambezi region, we see the highest HIV prevalence, and although this is very concerning, we do see that when patients are found, tested, and treated, the outcomes are good and the patients have every chance of living a long and healthy life.
For the past 14 years the United States, through PEPFAR, has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Social Services to fight HIV/AIDS, and we remain committed to helping Namibia maintain the progress that has been achieved. I look forward to working with the Ministry of Health to use these results to inform better the HIV/AIDS programming the U.S. Government supports through PEPFAR. And, I look forward to hearing the personal victories and community successes as I continue to travel the country to meet with patients, healthcare workers, and partners.
In closing, I again congratulate Namibia for the success it has achieved, and I stand with you in looking ahead at what we still need to do together.