New hope in HIV/AIDS struggle

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria has given Namibia US $113 million over five years in what could prove to be a turning point in the country's campaign to fight the three diseases, analysts said.

Namibia submitted a coordinated country proposal (CCP), which enhanced partnerships in the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in September last year. The proposal supported the scale-up of existing programmes and innovative projects that met the Fund's criteria.

Government, NGOs, private sector institutions, civic organisations, bilateral and multilateral agencies, academic institutions and religious groups where all involved in the submission of the proposal. HIV/AIDS programmes received the lion's share of the US $113 million funding.

Welcoming the Global Fund grant, under-secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Norbert Forster said around 13,000 HIV-positive Namibians would have access to life-prolonging drugs by the end of 2006 at all 35 state hospitals in the country.

The government would also establish a comprehensive Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme in all state hospitals. "The programme will provide for the treatment of mothers and babies with nevirapine and for their and the fathers' treatment with antiretroviral drugs when medically indicated," he said.

The money for HIV/AIDS will also be used for awareness campaigns, condom promotion, distribution and use, establishment of voluntary counselling and testing centres in eight of the country's 13 regions and all state hospitals, and the strengthening of home and community-based care support groups.

A workplace HIV/AIDS prevention and care programmes would also be established and strengthened in the public and private sectors.

"To date the majority of workplaces in Namibia do not as yet provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention and care services for their employees. This strategy is geared towards ensuring that by 2007 all workplaces in Namibia will provide such services," Forster said.

A comprehensive care and support programme for 150,000 orphans by 2007 would also be launched with the grant from the Geneva-based Fund.

The orphan programme includes the establishment of community-based self-help mechanisms, the provision of psycho-social counselling and support, the distribution of materials and improved access to social grants, benefits and other statutory services for the children.

More than 22 percent of Namibians aged between 15 and 49 are HIV positive.

Catholic AIDS Action, which is set to receive the bulk of the orphan funding, said the grant has given Namibia and its children new hope.

"It is a tremendous vote of confidence for Namibia's whole strategy. By working together, we marked a new phase in our strategy. It tells us that we can work together," Dr Lucy Steinitz of CAC said.

Although there would be a long delay before the money reached Namibia and ultimately its beneficiaries, Steinitz was not worried. "At least we know it's coming," she said.

Together with the money approved on Friday, the Fund hopes to hand out US $1.5 billion this year to countries that have qualified, the agency said. But after that the coffers would be empty, said Fund executive director Richard Feachem, calling for an additional US $6.3 billion from donors over the next two years.