The choice of Namibia as the venue for the launch of the 2016 Global Annual World AIDS Day Report celebrates our efforts in reducing new HIV infections by over 50 percent since 2001. It is in celebration of a country that provides universal access to anti-retroviral treatment and in celebration of a country that is committed to bringing mother-to-child HIV transmission from 4 percent to zero.
This commitment is defined in the performance agreement of the minister of health, and Namibia hopes to be the first African country to achieve zero paediatric HIV by 2020.
This is the story of a country that has come together with its development partners and civil society organisations and pulled in the same direction, in the spirit of Harambee, in order to fight one of the most devastating pandemics of modern times.
Our success in the AIDS response has been realised through significant scaling up of resources on all fronts and a multi-faceted approach.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, our success has also become our burden.
We all need to be reminded that HIV remains at epidemic levels, and if we are to sustain the gains we have made in reducing and treating HIV, we need to re-double our efforts in relation to prevention and treatment.
We cannot accept that while new infections are in general decline, we see an increase in new infections in young people between the ages of 15–29, particularly in adolescent girls and young women. We also cannot accept social behaviour, which drives HIV statistics, including the stigmatisation of people living with HIV. Denying any category of person access to treatment is in violation of our constitutional values as a nation, which rejects discrimination in any form.
Our efforts to tackle HIV are part of the multi-faceted approach to the war on poverty.
Our determination to eradicate poverty is closely linked to our ambition of ending AIDS as a public health threat in Namibia within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, our own Vision 2030, National Development Plan and the Harambee Prosperity Plan.
The third pillar of the Harambee Plan is Social Progression, and we are cognisant of the fact that ending the AIDS epidemic will take us a long way in our quest to enhance our social architecture. We must always be mindful that socio-economic issues such as inequality and gender-based violence manifest themselves in our HIV statistics, hence our focus on taking a holistic view when addressing HIV as it does not occur in a vacuum to societal realities.
When we say “Nobody Should Feel Left Out”, we mean it.
This speaks to the focus of key populations, which are vulnerable to HIV infection not being left out.
Exclusion, from any perspective, undermines achievement. From an HIV perspective, excluding treatment to key populations undermines our shared aspiration of an HIV-free generation.
There is no doubt in the old adage that prevention is better than cure. And as Chinua Achebe said: “If you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck.” Let us, therefore, work together to close the tap, while the water is still around our ankles by preventing new infections through the use of all the available tools and leaving no one behind, so that we do not end up neck deep in water.
Furthermore, political commitment is of paramount importance and is key to ending AIDS.
I am proud to say that Namibia has enjoyed that political since our independence and I would like to re-iterate that political commitment today.
As you are aware, the Namibian delegation led by the Dr Bernard Haufiku and Madame First Lady, joined world leaders at the UN General Assembly High Level meeting, which adopted the 2016 Political Declaration for ending AIDS by 2030.
The Political Declaration offers a wide spectrum of opportunities on how the AIDS response could help to influence the profound structural, social and economic changes needed to end AIDS and make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality: by promoting accountability, through grassroots alliances with communities acting as agents of change and by challenging inequality, stigma and marginalisation and leaving no one behind. This is in line with the overall objectives of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, as we will never attain our goals of prosperous nation if we are not a healthy nation.
While Namibia is proud of the achievements it has made in collaboration with partners like Global Fund and PEPFAR, we are also proud that the bulk of Namibia’s HIV response is funded by our domestic resources.
It is important for us to take ownership for treatment and care, while allowing partners to walk this difficult journey alongside us. Private sector funding towards HIV is around 1 percent and I would like to take this opportunity to engage the private sector on the need to join us on the frontlines of this battle, as HIV affects each and every one of us, either directly or indirectly.
Let me conclude with a quote from Christopher Reeve who said, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Namibia is walking in tandem with its neighbouring countries, the African continent and the world in the fight against HIV and in the hope that we will overcome this epidemic.
In the international arena, Namibia will continue to share its experiences and engage with other leaders and partners so that we can all realise the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets and the goal of the Political Declaration to End AIDS by 2030. We believe that through the necessary commitment and co-operation of our local, regional and international efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, we will be able to transform our goals from hope to possibility.
• This is an edited version of the speech by President Hage Geingob at the official launch of the Global Annual World AIDS Day Report 2016, on 21 November, in Windhoek.