This is how we stop HIV
By Lisa Johnson
US Ambassador to Namibia.
HIV/AIDS continues to interrupt young Namibians’ dreams and aspirations, and it must be stopped. Thankfully, Namibia is making progress, as shown by this year’s NAMPHIA survey results. Namibia is ever-closer to achieving an AIDS-free generation, and that’s worth celebrating this year on World AIDS Day. The NAMPHIA survey also showed us where the remaining gaps are: specifically, more men need to get tested for HIV. Many men are unaware that they are living with HIV, putting their health at risk while also leading to more infections in adolescent girls and young women, allowing the virus to spread.
Blesser-blessee relationships and sexual aggression by older men against younger women are driving much of the ongoing HIV transmission in Namibia. It’s time for that cycle to end. When an older man who is HIV positive has a relationship with a young woman, he may infect her with HIV. She then eventually may have a relationship with a young man of her own age, infecting him too. If he doesn’t get tested, he in turn can pass the virus on to other young women, continuing this vicious cycle. Getting tested and knowing your status is the first step in ending Namibia’s HIV transmission cycle.
President Geingob’s World AIDS Day video covered these themes as well. The message is out there – now I’m encouraging you to help share it. As you look ahead to the Festive Season – in the village, at the farm, on the coast, or in the city – please make HIV prevention part of your plans. Enjoy your time with family and friends, but take the opportunity to ask them if they know their HIV status. Tell people how easy it is to get tested, and that they can go to any clinic and contribute to the health of the Namibian nation.
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief – known as PEPFAR – began its partnership with Namibia in 2004. Since that time, America has invested over U.S. one billion dollars in saving Namibian lives, and the number of people dying of HIV/AIDS each year has decreased more than 50% from 10,000 per year to less than 4,000. If more men would get tested for HIV and, if found to be positive, would start taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), we could save even more lives.
The NAMPHIA data illustrates that new HIV infections are higher in women than in men. Those most affected are adolescent girls and young women aged 20-24 years. Consequently, this year we launched the DREAMS program in Khomas, Oshikoto, and Zambezi regions. DREAMS aims to create ‘Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe’ adolescent girls and young women. DREAMS goes beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and lack of education. DREAMS aims to reduce new HIV infections by empowering adolescent girls and young women with social protection and safe spaces, education and economic skills, and access to family planning and reproductive health services.
PEPFAR’s partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services has achieved great progress in the fight against HIV. However, Namibia will only be fully successful if people know their status. Get tested yourself. Encourage others – especially men – to get tested as well. If someone tests positive for HIV, the treatment is free and available in every district, usually as a single pill each day. This treatment can suppress the virus and allow those who are HIV positive to live long and healthy lives. The treatment blocks the transmission of HIV from a pregnant or breastfeeding mother to her baby, and when it is successfully suppressing the virus, it decreases the chance of transmission between sexual partners to practically zero.
It all starts with testing: Know your status and if HIV positive, get on treatment. That is how we stop HIV.