For 30 years we have marked World AIDS Day. On this day we reflect on the impact HIV/AIDS has had on the lives of millions of people around the world. This day also is a solemn reminder of the many lives lost to HIV/AIDS. Today in Namibia, however, we have cause for hope and also mark today as a celebration of progress.
Since 2004, the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief – known as PEPFAR – has worked closely with the Ministry of Health, non-governmental organizations, and other partners to assist Namibia in its fight against HIV/AIDS. We have made tremendous progress, as illustrated by the fact that the average lifespan in Namibia has been extended by 10 years.
The global theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status,” and indeed, that is the front line of this fight. In the past year, PEPFAR has supported the Namibian government in testing over 490,000 people countrywide. This achievement is the first step in achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets.
This year showed us that Namibia has made great progress toward these goals. 86% of people living with HIV know their status, and 96% of those infected with HIV are on treatment. Most importantly, 91% of those on treatment are virally suppressed, which means HIV is undetectable in their bodies. When people take their medication consistently and successfully suppress the virus, the risk of transmitting HIV is reduced to effectively zero. This brings Namibia closer to the epidemic control “tipping point,” when new HIV infections are lower than AIDS-related deaths.
It is estimated, however, that HIV still affects more than 200,000 Namibian women, men, and children. This highlights the important role we all have to play in order to reach total control of the epidemic. There is still more that we need to do.
Young men are still the demographic least likely to know their status, and Namibia’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS cannot be successful if all Namibians, especially 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’s struggle to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and realize an AIDS-free generation.
HIV prevention remains a priority in PEFPAR’s strategy to achieve epidemic control. That is why we support programs such as voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) to reach adolescent boys and adult men. VMMC reduces their risk of contracting HIV by 60%, which means they are less likely to pass HIV to their partners as well.
The PEPFAR program also supports the Ministry of Health to prevent children from being born with HIV. We test pregnant women for HIV in Antenatal Care, and avail all HIV positive women and their newborns with access to anti-retroviral medications. As a result, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many clinics around Namibia that have been 100% successful in the last year in protecting babies from contracting the virus from their HIV positive mothers.
Data also shows us that HIV incidence is higher in women than in men. Those most affected are adolescent girls and young women aged 20-24 years. This year’s Namibia-specific theme for World AIDS Day is “Empowering Girls and Young Women Against HIV and Teenage Pregnancy.”
PEPFAR is focusing on empowering girls and young women against HIV and teenage pregnancy through the DREAMS program. DREAMS aims to reduce new HIV infections in this group by empowering AGYW with social protection, safe spaces, education, and strengthened economic skills. DREAMS also provides access to family planning and reproductive health services.
Lastly, I would like to congratulate the Namibian Government on its many achievements thus far. Tremendous progress has been made. We must not lose sight, however, of continued areas of concern. We can achieve epidemic control only if our programs and results include all ages, genders, and at-risk groups.
There are still populations that need better HIV prevention, care, and treatment services – namely, young women, young men, and key populations. We must leverage the power of partnerships and strategic, targeted action to achieve our goals and ensure that tomorrow’s generation of Namibians will have a healthy future.
My commitment to you is that PEPFAR will continue to collaborate with the Government of Namibia, multilateral institutions, the private sector, philanthropic, civil society, and faith-based organizations, people living with HIV, and many others to maximize the impact of our efforts.