By Dominic Sikopo
The University of Namibia`s Katima Mulilo Campus recently held its annual HIV/AIDS awareness week which took place from 22- 23 April 2013.
This year`s theme was “Getting to zero, Lets end It”, the event looks at educating students and the public at large about HIV and AIDS as a whole.
Delivering the keynote speech was Dr. Peter Bwalya, Regional Chief Medical Officer for Caprivi who mentioned that HIV/AIDS awareness week presents an opportunity for institutions, public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support especially in high prevalence regions like Caprivi.
Dr. Bwalya explained some of the key interventions for HIV prevention such as HIV counselling and testing, Abstinence, faithfulness to one sexual partner, Correct condom use, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission(PMTCT) of the virus, Medical Male Circumcision (which has a 60% reduction in transmission), treatment, care and support.
The Caprivi Chief Medical Officer also revealed that AIDS intervention programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa had yielded significant results in the last decade particularly in the Caprivi region as of late about 98% of HIV cases exposed(born from HIV+ mothers) babies are negative.
He went on saying despite these successes HIV remained a critical public health care issue, “Cumulatively in Caprivi region, 12,613 clients have ever enrolled with our facilities while 10,803 (85.6%) of these are on ARV treatment at the moment”.
The prevalence rate of HIV in Namibia is among the highest in the world while the Caprivi region itself remains the highest since HIV sentinel Survey which since started in 1992.
“Since 1996, HIV has been the leading cause of death in this country, close to 17 percent of the country`s children under the age of 18 are orphaned by at least one parent mostly due to HIV”, revealed Dr. Bwalya.
The National Planning Commission in the census report for 2001 reported that life expectancy had declined since Independence from 61 years (in 1991) to 49 years.
In Namibia, HIV is mainly spread through heterosexual sex which is driven by high rates of multiple and concurrent partnerships (mcp) transactional sex, misconceptions in the general population about the risk of contracting HIV, high rates of alcohol abuse, a high rate of mobility and migration and a decline in marital and cohabiting unions, explained Dr. Bwalya.
“On top of that this region is also challenged by young people having sexual relations at a very early age and the highest prevalence rate in the youth of 23.1% compared to other regions, but of greatest concern are the AIDS orphans and vulnerable children left behind in the trails of this disease”. Warned Dr. Bwalya.
He explained that for the government to determine prevalence, it conducts a bi-annual serological survey among pregnant women with ages 15- 49.
He added that the survey is done anonymously during routine antenatal care visits which means that the results cannot be linked to anyone.
The latest(2012) HIV prevalence results shows that Nationally it has stood at 18.2% dropping from 18.8% in 2010, while in Caprivi the pandemic increased from 35.6% in 2010 to 37.7% in 2012 remaining with the highest HIV prevalence in the country while HIV prevalence in the age group 15-24 has dropped from 14.2% in 2006 to 8.8% in 2012.
The percentage of women who tested positive during the 2012 HIV Sentinel Survey who were already on ART, Namibia as a country stood at 41.4 % which according to Dr. Bwalya is very high.
Caprivi stood at 39.3% making no statistical significance difference between Urban and Rural HIV prevalence among women, the most affected group is from 25-39 years.
“In 2010, Namibia had an HIV prevalence rate of 18.8% while our region was at 35.6% in adults (ages 15 to 49) which is slightly higher than 17.8% in 2008”, said Dr. Bwalya.
He however explained that the figure was still quite distressing and he therefore called for purpose of unity in order to reverse the worrisome trend.
He explained that the peak occurred in 2002 when as a country, Namibia`s prevalence hit 22% while Caprivi as a region was at 43%.
“The 2010 HIV Sentinel Survey further indicates that HIV is highest at 29.7% in the 30-39 year-old age group and is at it`s lowest(6.6%) among women aged 15-19 years”, Dr. Bwalya again revealed.
Although the prevalence rate among the youth in Namibia decreased in 2010, the prevalence rate among the youth in Caprivi was the highest compared to other regions to 23.1%.
“In response to this information, the Ministry of Health and Social Services recommended that prevention measures be intensified, that HIV/AIDS components be mainstreamed into all developments, that more citizens be encouraged to use voluntary counselling and testing services and that antiretroviral treatment be expanded to all parts of the country, especially the rural service”, reiterated Dr. Bwalya.
He revealed that the region has rolled out the counselling and testing programmes to 13 sites plus two NGO sites making it 15, “these 13 sites and the main site are offering ARV services”.
Dr. Bwalya further explained that there are many organisations working in the region that are providing services to orphans and vulnerable children, “The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare works closely with various delopment partners, non-governmnetal organizations and faith-based groups to implement the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable children”, he said.
He concluded by thanking all of the partners for their support to orphans together with the organisation through which the support is channelled to Catholic Aids Action, UNICEF, UNFPA, among others.
“To all the partners in the fight against HIV and AIDS be rest assured that the Namibian government in general and the regional government in particular, appreciates all your efforts and is there to support you in these endeavours, do not be discouraged by the high HIV prevalence rate in our region, let`s continue to fight together as there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Victory is certain…finishers never lose hope”, concluded Dr. Bwalya.
Caption: Regional Chief Medical Officer for Caprivi, Dr. Peter Bwalya.