By Donna Collins
IT is estimated that 220 000 people are infected by the HIV/Aids pandemic, this number is expected to increase by an additional 7 000 in the next year.
In light of these shocking statistics, the HIV/Aids crisis took centre stage last week with the announcement of the first ever Namibian National Aids Conference to be held at the Swakopmund Dome from November 28 – 30. This was followed by a ‘paint the town red’ exercise of attaching red ribbons to some of the town’s strategically placed trees.
The Ministry of Health and Social Service (MoHSS), in collaboration with development partners, and the National Steering Committee of the conference, held a promotional drive meeting last week, during which the objectives and operational updates were laid out. A cheque of N$200 000 was handed over from Erongo Med health company towards the conference.
Termed by the Erongo Regional Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua as an “historic event”, he stressed that HIV/AIDS poses a threat to the socio-economic development of our country, but more specifically to the Erongo Region, which is home to some of the major industries in the country employing a massive workforce.
“Apart from the operating mines, the fishing industry also has its base here, which between them employ thousands people from across the country,” he said.
“In addition to this we are the region of choice for both domestic and international tourists where people converge to our seaside towns in their masses, as you will see in the upcoming holidays – drawing a higher risk.
“Should we not participate in a national fight against HIV/AIDS, we stand to lose all the gains we have made in the economic development of our region, because ultimately we won’t have the human resources left to maintain and ensure these gains.”
Furthermore he stated that the National AIDS Conference could not have a come at a better time, and will be held under the theme ‘Together We Are Ending AIDS in Namibia’.
The historic conference will take place in Swakopmund will bring together academics and researchers who will share their latest studies, experiences and expert knowledge in the fight against HIV.
“The purpose of our conference is therefore to provide a platform for us in Namibia to gain a deeper understanding of the epidemic and to learn from others so that we can establish a common action by all stakeholders, and chart the way forward towards ending AIDS by 2030,” Mutjavikua added.
The National AIDS Conference will be held against the backdrop of the World AIDS Day celebrations, and senior Government officials, representatives of international organisations and partners in the AIDS response space have been invited to deliver insightful key addresses and high level presentations.
Additionally, the conference will have what is called a ‘village’, which will showcase exhibitions by various community based HIV organisations as well as provide an HIV testing station, plus wellness screening to conference delegates and visitors to the conference.
In addition, other activities such as industrial theatre, music, films and other exciting activities will ensure that the subject matter of HIV/Aids is highlighted in an artistic and different manner especially to attract our young people.
Speaking at the same occasion, Jeremia Nghipundjwa, director of health, Erongo Region, pointed out that the first case of HIV was reported in 1986, and had reached epidemic proportions in the 90s. He said contracting HIV was perceived as a “death sentence” as there was no medical intervention, and was the leading cause of death back then.
It reached its highest peak in 2002, but with Namibia implementing multi-pronged strategies the country has seen a declining trend in HIV and a reversal of the ‘death sentence’ perception. Prevention control methods such as condom promotion, HIV counselling, testing, voluntary medical male circumsion, and pregnant women testing amongst others have contributed to the reduction in HIV infection as noted in the past 10 years.
“We are not out of the woods, and despite these achievements the fight against HIV/Aids is far from over for several reasons, namely new infections being reported, alcohol abuse is prevalent which leads to risky behaviour, socio-economic inequalities and dwindling funding from external sources”.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015