… Shocking statistics revealed during Walvis Bay PrEP clinic visit
By Confidente Reporter
A shocking 19 Namibians a day where infected with HIV/Aids during 2016, adding up to a total of 7 000 new infections for the year.
This was revealed by United States Ambassador to Namibia, Thomas F. Daughton, during a recent visit to a roadside clinic at Walvis Bay, to gain first-hand insights into the provision of HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
PrEP is the safe and effective use of antiretroviral drugs by people who are not infected with HIV, but who are at an elevated risk of contracting the virus.
The program of the Ministry of Health and Social Services is based on the HIV Prevention Guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is supported by the US President’s Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Society for Family Health (SFH) and the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) started offering PrEP three months ago and currently manage container clinics at Oshikango, Katima Mulilo and Walvis Bay.
Daughton said that around the world, the coverage of treatment for people living with HIV has increased substantially.
“And yet, in spite of that increase, we continue to see new HIV infections occurring. Last year alone, 1.8 million people were infected with HIV, and two-thirds of them were in sub-Saharan Africa. In Namibia, more than 7 000 new infections occurred. Do the math: that means on average that 19 people were infected with HIV every day in Namibia in 2016,” Daughton said.
“Numbers like that highlight the importance of effective HIV prevention. Those numbers also highlight that we still have work to do to improve our HIV prevention strategies and interventions.”
In 2015, the WHO made a compelling recommendation for countries to offer the use of antiretroviral medication to people who are not infected, but who are at substantial risk of acquiring HIV.
The WHO recommended what the specialists call Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP.
“The evidence also clearly shows that PrEP does not lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour. That’s an argument that critics of PrEP occasionally put forward, but research and implementation science have proven that argument to be quite simply wrong,” Daughton said.
“The WHO’s data also show that PrEP is between 92 percent and 100 percent effective in preventing HIV infection. That’s why here in Namibia in November last year, the Ministry of Health and Social Services included the WHO’s recommendation on PrEP in the national guidelines for antiretroviral treatment. That’s also why the US government, through PEPFAR, is supporting the ministry’s efforts to prioritise interventions like PrEP – because we agree with the WHO and the ministry that interventions like PrEP are a vital part of a sustainable HIV response in Namibia.”
Daughton said that data show that Namibia has made great strides in diagnosing people living with HIV and getting them on ARV treatment.
“But work remains to be done, and access to treatment services for key populations remains very low in the country. PrEP is a direct and effective way of helping people in those key populations.”
He said that that taking PrEP does not negate the importance of other measures, like the use of condoms or voluntary medical male circumcision.
“It is the combination of all those interventions that is moving Namibia step by step towards an AIDS-free generation. And those interventions are available in this country thanks to the Ministry of Health and Social Services and its Directorate of Special Programmes… It has been exactly three months since decentralisation of PrEP started here in Walvis Bay, with the support of the Society for Family Health and the Walvis Bay Corridor Group. Through this decentralised model, already more than 60 individuals are taking PrEP – and that’s a number we expect to increase steadily with the continued expansion of the program.”
Erongo Regional Governor, Cleophas Mutjavikua, said that since the emergence of HIV/Aids in the early 1980s, and before HIV treatment in Namibia, people infected and affected felt hopeless and lived in fear, as they did not know how long they would be alive.
“Today, this is no longer the case. Treatment for HIV is widely available and accessible in our public health facilities. And most importantly, HIV prevention methods have advanced especially with the addition of PrEP.
“I firmly believe that the provision of these important services will be critical to the elimination of HIV spread in Namibia… I am also reliably informed that Walvis Bay, through this container clinic is the first town in Namibia to make PrEP available through this community-based approach. This is commendable and I want to thank you all for that,” the governor added.
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