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A national campaign aims to increase Namibian men's involvement in HIV health programmes

By Suzanne Beukes

KATUTURA, Namibia, 24 March 2011 – Israel Ndeshaanya and Elisabeth Nagula live together with their 8-month old son, Nicolas, in the township of Katutura

VIDEO: 11 March 2011 - UNICEF's Suzanne Beukes reports on a new campaign to involve men in the process of eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV in Namibia.  Watch in RealPlayer


Israel is rare among men in Namibia. Elisabeth is HIV positive, but to him it doesn’t matter. "Since the day she came to know about her status, I never said any bad words to her or pointed fingers to her,” he said. “We are just as we have been.”

The couple went through Namibia’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme when Elisabeth became pregnant with Nicolas, whose HIV status is negative.
Israel even regularly ensures Elisabeth takes her anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Men’s participation

Such male involvement is hard to find. In Namibia, like many other African countries, men’s participation in health programmes tends to lower than that of women.

© UNICEF Namibia/2011/Manuel Moreno Gonzalez
Israel Ndeshaanya plays an active role in the lives of his partner Elisabeth, who is HIV positive, and their son, Nicolas. It is rare in Namibia for men to play such a positive role in the health of women.

Recent research conducted by UNICEF and the Namibian government shows that only about 3 per cent of male partners of women in the national Antenatal Care Programme tested for HIV in 2010, compared to 96 per cent of women.

The research also shows that, while men have a low participation rate in antenatal care, they do have a bearing on their partner’s adherence to the PMTCT programme.

Often they can actively work against the goals of the programme, by interfering with testing, treatment or feeding choices, delaying access to care or withholding financial assistance.

By contrast, supportive men like Israel have a positive effect on the participation of women and children in the PMTCT programme.

New target

This fact is something that Namibian First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba  aims to promote through her new campaign, which is supported by President Hifikepunye Pohamba , UNICEF and other aid organizations.

© UNICEF Namibia/2011/Manuel Moreno Gonzalez
Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba have launched a campaign to reduce the prevalence of HIV across the country.

Launching the campaign, the President emphasized the vital role men play in caring for the well-being of their partners and children, saying the health of the whole country was at stake.

“It is not enough for Namibian men to provide the basic necessities such as a house, food, water, electricity for their families. They should also become actively involved in health issues such as the prevention of HIV Aids pandemic,” he said. “Health is not a women’s issue. It is an issue for both men and women.”

President Pohamba  set a target for Namibia to increase participation by men in HIV testing from about 3 per cent to 25 per cent by the end of this year.

Improving services

Namibia has one of the world’s highest rates of prevalence of HIV. Nearly 19 per cent of all pregnant women were reported to be HIV positive last year.

Namibia started its PMTCT programme almost a decade ago. Since then it has been rolled out to 238 of 335 health facilities across the country, treating some 59,000 pregnant women every year.

© UNICEF Namibia/2011/Manuel Moreno Gonzalez
Elisabeth Nagula is HIV positive. She went through Namibia's Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme when pregnant with her son, Nicolas, whose status is HIV negative.

But good coverage doesn’t always translate into low rates of mother-to-child transmission. Active involvement of men in the treatment of their partners and children is not the only area that needs to change.

The quality of services also needs improvement, if Namibia is going to reach its goal of an HIV-free generation by 2015. 

This includes treating women in need of ARV drugs as early as possible, rapidly rolling out to more efficacious ARV prophylactic regimens, and testing babies for HIV when they are between six and eight weeks old.

Breast is best

The First Lady’s campaign is also advocating revised World Health Organisation guidelines on infant feeding.

These guidelines recommend that HIV-infected women only breastfeed their infants for the first 6 months, and that they and their infants take ARVs and prophylaxis at the same time. Afterwards, complementary foods should be introduced.

“There can be no doubt that for all women, even HI- positive women, that breast is best for themselves and for their infants,” said UNICEF Namibia Representative Ian Macleod.

By improving the overall quality of services to HIV-positive pregnant mothers, and by involving their partners in the process, Namibia hopes Elisabeth and Israel’s story of raising a healthy HIV-negative child will become the norm rather than the exception.



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