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Namibian Health Official Urges Conference Participants to Focus on Prevention

April 2, 2009

Petrina Haingura, Namibia's deputy health minister, recently called on participants at the bi-annual Namibia Network of AIDS Service Organizations to increase prevention efforts in the country's fight against HIV/AIDS, Namibia's New Era reports. A 2008 survey that monitored HIV prevalence among women showed "a welcome fall" from 19.9% in 2006 to 17.7% in 2008, Haingura said. She added that prevalence rates have decreased to 5% among people between ages 15 and 19, and to 14% among people ages 20 to 24. In addition, HIV prevalence in six of Namibia's regions has declined to 15%, compared with previous rates as high as 40%, Haingura noted.

More than 200,000 Namibians are living with HIV/AIDS, and the government says the third national medium-term plan has made significant steps in providing treatment, care and support to people affected by HIV/AIDS. Haingura noted that the number of HIV-positive people receiving treatment has exceeded the 2008 targets established by the government, which has since adjusted the targets upward. Haingura said that although Namibia has made strides in curbing the epidemic, the latest figures indicate that rates in some areas are increasing gradually. She added that more attention needs to be directed to prevention campaigns. "We have our national campaigns to encourage the nation to make the behavior changes that are needed to stop the infections in the first place," Haingura said. She said that in the north and central regions of Namibia, one in every five women is living with HIV/AIDS and that most campaigns are not gender-specific, are directed at urban communities and lack training for core groups, further fueling the epidemic. Haingura proposed that funds be directed to address cultural norms and urged NANASO members to lead such initiatives because of their presence in communities throughout the country. "You are on the ground, you must review how you approach behavior change programs and become facilitators of change," she said, adding, "Just telling people what to do does not work, you must work with people and communities so that they decide how they will turn back the tide through their personal actions."

The two-day NANASO conference, which ended on Tuesday, aimed to strengthen the ability of members to network, as well as share information and resources for issues not included in the national HIV/AIDS policy. It also focused on providing recommendations on issues related to HIV/AIDS in Namibia for the government's fourth MTP framework, according to New Era. More than 400 HIV/AIDS service organizations participated in the conference (Ekongo, New Era, 4/1).

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