Namibia, US celebrate life

by Dennise Mathieu; originally printed in The Namibian (The Free Press Of Namibia) December 5, 2008

Rick Bauer is Director of the Catholic AIDS Action (CAA) of the Namibian Bishops' Conference


After the introduction of life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, this hospice chose instead to mark World AIDS Day with a celebration of life, because the people who were once dying were now living.

In this spirit, on World AIDS Day 2008 [Monday), we join the people of Namibia in celebrating life.

For more than 25 years, the world community has witnessed the devastating impact of HIV-AIDS.

Until recently, many wondered whether prevention, treatment and care could ever successfully be provided in resource-limited settings where HIV was a death sentence.

Just over five years ago, only 50 000 people living with HIV in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

In 2003, US President George W Bush launched the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) to combat global HIV-AIDS.

Through Pepfar, the US government has already provided US$18,8 billion in HIV-AIDS funding (Phase I), and the US Congress has authorised up to US$48 billion for HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years (Phase II), worldwide.

In 2008, the United States' commitment to Namibia was US$108 million, rising from US$9,4 million in 2003 before the Emergency Plan began.

Overall, the American people donated US$323 million during Phase I in support of Namibia's battle against HIV-AIDS.

As of September 2008, Pepfar has provided: * Treatment to over 56,000 people; * HIV counselling and testing to nearly 37 000 pregnant women for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV to their children - over 6 500 of whom received a complete course of ARV prophylaxis for PMTCT; Care to more than 160 000 people, including orphans and vulnerable children, infected and affected by HIV-AIDS; and, * Nearly 1 000 bursaries for Namibians to study to become physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other allied health professionals.

These achievements are made possible because of the courageous individuals in countless communities in Namibia that are choosing life, saving the lives of their fellow countrymen and women and creating hope for a future free of HIV-AIDS.

On this World AIDS Day, we celebrate the lives saved as a result of Namibia's commitment to fight this deadly disease.

We also celebrate Namibians and Americans who are working together in partnership to save Namibian lives.

To mention just one recent example, the United States Government and Catholic AIDS Action (CAA), a local Namibian organisation, came together to support those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and to promote prevention.

Following Pepfar-supported training on male engagement, CAA staff in the Caprivi Region put their new skills to work.

The CAA Regional Co-ordinator approached some men with the idea of a "men's only" home care group.

They, in turn, asked other friends to join them.

Recently, Catholic AIDS Action graduated the first of its "Men's Only" home based care (HBC) group in the Caprivi Region -- 17 men completed 84 hours of training and are now making a difference in their communities.

The impact of the training can be seen in the comments from the volunteers.

"The Men's Group of Catholic AIDS Action in the Caprivi Region is a unique way to bring change in our community by MEN talking with MEN and caring for others affected by AIDS.

We want to bring down our enemy, which is HIV and AIDS."

"At first, it was mainly women that responded to fight this virus.

We men lacked knowledge and were unable to come out and join the women.

We refused to listen to women on issues like the use of condoms and other means of prevention.

Later on, this enemy entered our homes and tore apart our families and children.

Some of our families and friends, who were infected with this virus, were rejected by their communities.

We could no longer turn a blind eye on our enemy, AIDS."

"We are changing our community by helping people who were rejected by their families and accepting them as part of our community.

We are supporting children to go to school.

We visit our clients and help them to live positively.

We give them support and refer them for medical treatment."

"We are role models in our community to fight this enemy."

Because of partnerships like this in nations around the globe, Pepfar is on track to achieve its aggressive goals to support two million people through treatment, prevention of seven million new infections, and care for 10 million people infected or affected by HIV-AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.

The US Congress and President have established ambitious new goals for the next five years, and working in partnership with the people of many nations, we can achieve them.

Together, the people of Namibia and the American people have proven that with a little support, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

* Dennise Mathieu is the US Ambassador to Namibia.

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