NAMIBIA: Consultations on national HIV/AIDS policy begin
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
New policy will include awareness element
WINDHOEK, 2 August (PLUSNEWS) - The Namibian government is drafting its first national policy on HIV/AIDS and hopes to complete it by World AIDS Day on 1 December.
At the behest of the government a draft policy was compiled by the AIDS law unit of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), an NGO, and discussed last week at a series of workshops with stakeholders from the legal, social and community sectors.
"The ministry of health and social services leads the process and the LAC was tasked to write the first draft," explained Delme Cupido of the LAC AIDS law unit. "During those five workshops we introduced the broad outlines of the draft and discussed possible additions, amendments and issues that need to be included."
This will be the country's first national AIDS policy, although "there have been national strategic plans on HIV/AIDS in place", said Rianne Selle, national coordinator of the government's official AIDS awareness campaigns.
"The third medium-term plan was implemented in 2004 and will take us to 2009," she told PlusNews.
The 30-page draft policy deals with prevention and the treatment, care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS, creating an enabling environment, impact mitigation, managing and monitoring the disease.
"An effective institutional framework for the national HIV/AIDS response requires a multisectoral approach," the document noted. "This includes partnerships between government and relevant stakeholders ... the private sector, community-based and nongovernmental organisations, trade unions, the churches and people living with HIV/AIDS."
The government planned to allocate "at least two percent of the national budget" for HIV/AIDS related activities, and also wants local authorities to allocate two percent of their annual budgets "for mainstreaming HIV/AIDS activities into their core business and services".
Auriol Ashby, a development consultant who acted as a workshop facilitator last week, said the input was "extremely valuable".
One major point of debate was how to ensure that the proposed monthly grants for orphans actually reached them.
"Participants recommended that this grant should be paid out along with the monthly government pensions," Ashby said. An alternative would be to increase the pensions.
"Their rationale is that those monthly payouts are done via a reliable and well-established system; the grim truth is that more and more pensioners look after their grandchildren," Ashby explained.
Helga Huses, who is HIV-positive, runs a self-help project called Family Hope Sanctuary in the Katutura township on the western outskirts of Windhoek, the capital.
She was one of the first people in the country to receive antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and told IRIN she now felt like "a different person, and have regained my energy".
Huses's community-based organisation - established in 2004 with 82 members, only four of them men - runs a soup kitchen in her neighbourhood and provides home-based care.
In a nearby community hall the Family Hope Sanctuary also runs a school for youngsters who have never attended one. "We have gathered 40 children here in the neighbourhood between the ages of seven and fifteen and teach them reading, writing and arithmetic," said Huses.
Food for the soup kitchen is donated by various butcheries, dairy companies and shops in the central business district of Windhoek, but it is never enough. A small grant from UNAIDS, received a few weeks ago, has helped Huses to cover some of the costs of her organisation.
"Food security is important - if you take your ARV pills on an empty stomach, you get an upset stomach and that weakens your system," she noted.
At last week's workshop, Huses disclosed that five members of her organisation had died because of a lack of food. "They got weaker and the disease took its toll," she said.
"It is all well and good to have a policy in future, but basic things like a meal every day - in other words food security here in the townships - must become part of the overall effort to combat AIDS," Huses stressed.
Namibia's ARV rollout campaign has been praised for meeting its targets.
In the UN Secretary General's report to the General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS in June 2005, Namibia was mentioned as one of only three African countries where more than 25 percent of those eligible for treatment were actually receiving it. The other two were Uganda, where the ARV rollout is in its seventh year, and Botswana, now in its fourth year of providing anti-AIDS drugs.
Namibia started its rollout in August 2003. "By June this year there were already 17,000 patients on treatment in Namibia; this is the total for both the public and private sector," said Dr Norman Foster, undersecretary in the ministry of health.
The estimated number of Namibians in need of treatment stands at around 56,000.
Over the next two months, consultations on the draft HIV/AIDS policy will be held in all 13 regions of the country. "The final version will be submitted to cabinet and we hope to launch the official document on World AIDS Day, which is 1 December," said Ashby.
Financial assistance for Namibia's AIDS policy process is being provided by the European Union and the German agency for technical cooperation, GTZ.