Windhoek – The United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, visited Namibia from June 17 – 20 to celebrate 20 years of The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and 18 years of saving lives in Namibia.
During his three-day visit, Ambassador Dr. Nkengasong engaged with Namibian government officials and other partners leading the strategy to reach and sustain HIV epidemic control.
Ambassador Nkengasong met with Deputy Prime Minister, Honorable Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, where they discussed health financing, HIV programming, and sustainability. He congratulated Namibia on the remarkable progress towards reaching the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 95–95–95 targets and ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030. In Namibia, 92 percent of people know their HIV status, 99 percent of people living with HIV are on treatment, and 94 percent of people living with HIV who are on treatment are virally suppressed, meaning the virus is not detectable in their bodies.
Nkengasong noted that Namibia is leading in innovative programs and approaches to reach and sustain control of the HIV epidemic and is an example to other countries in the region. In 2023, PEPFAR will provide US$88 million, which is over N$1.6 billion in funding to support the national HIV/TB response.
PEPFAR is implemented in Namibia through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Peace Corps.
Ambassador Nkengasong’s first stop was a Peace Corps supported program, Grassroots Soccer (GRS), an adolescent health program that leverages the power of football to educate, inspire, and mobilize youth to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. GRS trains coaches, teachers, and peer educators to deliver interactive life skills curricula to youth, providing them with the knowledge, skills, and support needed to live healthier lives and to prevent HIV. Nkengasong called the group, “The leaders of Namibia tomorrow”.
At his visit to Katutura State Hospital, Ambassador Nkengasong met with mothers living with HIV, their HIV-negative babies, and their treatment supporters from the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) program. This program, which is led by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, is supported by PEPFAR through CDC and is implemented by community-based partner Development Aid from People to People (DAPP). PMTCT is offered in health facilities and community settings throughout the country. At the meeting, the mothers spoke about how the support provided to them is helping them to keep their children HIV negative. “This support has given me life,” said one of the mothers. Mothers and their HIV exposed infants are referred to the PEPFAR orphans and vulnerable children program to receive longer-term comprehensive support inclusive of other members of the household.
He also visited the newly installed state-of-the-art Pelebox© smart lockers at Katutura State Hospital, to learn how they operate and test the smart lockers for himself. Using Peleboxes©, eligible patients on chronic medications can discreetly access their medication refills in less than two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is more convenient for patients and helps healthcare providers by decongesting clinics, enabling providers to spend more time with patients who need it. This delivery of HIV services, as part of routine healthcare, will help to effectively sustain the HIV response in the long-term. “The Pelebox© lockers are a great example of how countries can make it easier for people living with chronic diseases to stay on their medication, by making it more convenient to collect their prescriptions,” said Ambassador Nkengasong.
Ambassador Nkengasong also engaged with Namibian Adolescent Treatment Supporters (NATS). NATS are trained and mentored adolescents and young adults who help support young people living with HIV to stay on treatment. The unique aspect of this care is the peer-to-peer support. “By helping to support our peers, we are also strengthening ourselves,” said one of the NATS mentors during the meeting.
Reflecting on his time spent with the young people of Namibia, Ambassador Nkengasong said, “The HIV epidemic will only be ended by the engagement and leadership of the youth.”
At the end of the official visit, Ambassador Nkengasong hosted a PEPFAR 20th Anniversary celebration with key stakeholders who have been vital to the success of PEPFAR in Namibia including government officials, multilateral partners, and civil society. He also announced the 2023 PEPFAR funding for Country Operational Plan (COP) 2023, planned in consultation with the Government of Namibia, civil society, and multilateral partners to support existing and new programs. The Ambassador congratulated Namibia on its progress to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030. Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, Minister of Health and Social Services, expressed his appreciation for PEPFAR’s continued support in the fight against HIV. “Our partnership has grown stronger and more robust over the last two decades. What started as an emergency project to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV has grown into a fully-fledged partnership with multiple successful and impactful programs. Over the years, the partnership with PEPFAR has transitioned from an emergency to a long-term response. Many lives were saved, many people were given hope. We are now seeing what it looks like to have epidemic control,” said Dr. Shangula.