Namibia And America Build On Success In Fighting AIDS; Wanda Nesbitt, U.S. Ambassador to Namibia; Op-Ed in The Namibian; Namibia

December 7, 2010

World AIDS Day is a day of remembrance and a day of celebration. We take time to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and those whose lives have been adversely affected by it.

Their struggle inspires us to work each and every day to sustain prevention, care and treatment programmes, and to develop innovative, efficient and effective new ways to fight the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

World AIDS Day is also a day to celebrate our collective successes. Our small and large victories are measured in the lives of infected people who have been saved by access to antiretroviral therapy, in families that remain intact, and by workers whose ability to contribute was not ended by their diagnosis. On this World AIDS Day, we are thankful for the progress that has been made against HIV-AIDS.

Since 2004, the United States has invested over 500 million dollars in Namibia through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a demonstration of our commitment to supporting the GRN's national strategy.

Today, approximately 80 000 men, women and children in Namibia are receiving life-saving antiretroviral treatment with PEPFAR assistance.

We are also helping to care for and support those affected by HIV-AIDS with programmes such as food for children whose parents have succumbed to the disease, income-generating activities for women impacted by HIV-AIDS, and support groups for people and families living with HIV-AIDS.

Looking to the future, we see our partnership with Namibia growing even deeper as we work together to implement the Partnership Framework Agreement signed by Pres. Pohamba and my predecessor in September 2010. Designed to ensure the sustainability of Namibia's successful response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, it also commits us to work together to broaden the impact of the USG's investments across the healthcare system. We will be strategising and planning together to make sure that our PEPFAR programs are smarter and more responsive than ever.

What do we mean by "smart"? Experience in Namibia and elsewhere has taught us many lessons about the efficient use of funds to scale up HIV-AIDS services as part of an emergency response. Going forward, our joint response must now focus on investments that promote efficiencies and innovation.

HIV-AIDS care and treatment services must also increasingly be integrated with other routine healthcare services. In short, "smart" investments will benefit not only the HIV-AIDS response, but the entire health care system.

Examples of existing "smart" investments include: Training for nurses, who are the backbone of the healthcare system; support for the expansion of the public health laboratory network; funding for the education of the next generation of Namibian healthcare workers, and; efforts to increase private sector involvement in the HIV-AIDS response.

Being "smart" also requires vision and leadership. I am greatly encouraged by the productive partnership between the U.S. and Namibian governments in combating the spread of HIV-AIDS, and am particularly appreciative of the pivotal role played by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Our governments share the belief that access to care, treatment, and counselling should be available to everyone in need, and we are striving to make this belief a reality. Other donors also engaged in this effort and we recognise the importance of their contributions.

But the fight against HIV-AIDS is not only about high-level government-to-government relationships. And it is not just a medical issue; it is a social behaviour issue.

People at every level of society have an important role to play. Teachers and parents must both be responsible for ensuring that young people are well-informed and have the support they need to reject risky behaviour.

Single and married people must behave responsibly and be aware of the potential consequences of their actions. Families and communities must be supportive and accepting of those who, despite our collective efforts, contract the disease. Through the PEPFAR program, we try to reach individuals as well as governments. Small grants help people who are affected by HIV-AIDS increase their economic self-sufficiency.

For example, some recipients have used the small grants we provide or gardening, carpentry, and sewing projects, and to expand "take away" food operations.

These projects generate income for those living with HIV-AIDS and their broader communities. This year we awarded more than 20 different grants totalling US$237 978 to organisations focused on HIV-AIDS messaging, especially to young people.

Sister Namibia, for instance, received money to support a youth camp that provided education on sexual and reproductive health; KAYEC won a grant to help build a sports complex for the use of orphans and vulnerable children; and the Okahandja Samaritans Network received funds to promote HIV-AIDS awareness through music, drama and other artistic activities. A great deal has been accomplished and we, - Namibians and Americans - should be proud of the fact that thousands of lives have been saved and thousands more spared from ever getting AIDS. On this World AIDS Day, we honour the lives lost and celebrate the lives saved, and we answer the call to keep up the fight.

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