Giving a voice to the voiceless
The ‘Undetectable equals untransmittable’ (U = U) campaign conference took place on 24 November and was hosted at the Windhoek Country Club Resort. Various parties were present such as representatives from Youth Empowerment Group (YEG), United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef), the ministry of health and social services and African Youth and Adolescents Network (AfriYan), amongst others.
Rachel Odede, Unicef country representative, highlighted that the individuals present have taken a bold step not only to increase their knowledge, but also create demand for prevention and treatment services for adolescents living with HIV. By doing so, they will be playing an important role in educating young people, creating awareness and transmitting crucial information so that the youth become aware, remain alert and take measures to prevent HIV occurrence.
She added that Kofi Annan once stated: "Young people are the key in the fight against AIDS [acquired immune deficiency syndrome]. By giving them the support they need, we can empower them to protect themselves against the virus. By giving them honest and straightforward information, we can break the circle of silence across all society. By creating effective campaigns for education and prevention, we can turn young people's enthusiasm, drive and dreams for the future into powerful tools for tackling the epidemic".
Latest estimates from the ministry show that 86.0% of persons living with HIV aged 15 to 64 know their HIV status, and of these, 96.4% are on antiretrovirals (ARVs), while 91.3% of these are virally suppressed and no longer spread HIV. We can now realistically envision dramatic reductions of new HIV infections in children if we collectively implement the global plan for the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV, the ministry said.
The conference also addressed how young people should be educated about HIV/AIDS, how the virus spreads, what the effects are, when they are at danger of infection, and how they may protect themselves from HIV. They should also be taught how to conduct safe sex, deal with peer pressure and deal with potentially dangerous situations, it found.
The event further highlighted the importance of preventing new HIV infections, especially mother-to-child transmission, showing support and solidarity to those who are infected or impacted, and ending HIV stigma and prejudice. Lastly, it is critical to play a role in HIV/AIDS prevention.
Health ministry deputy director Dr Esther Muinjangue mentioned that in August the ministry celebrated the milestone of achieving a 97% rate of HIV-positive children and adolescents who are on ARVs, while it continues to prioritise young people’s health. She further emphasised the slogan - “nothing for us without us” - and its effectiveness to the inclusivity of young people in campaigns that concern them and their future well-being.
The U = U campaign for young people is a collaborative effort between the ministry of health and Unicef Namibia.
“I would like to thank Unicef for their continuous collaboration and support in assisting the ministry to drive community health advocacy, education and prevention programmes for children and adolescents,” Muinjangue said. The collaborative efforts employed will help in attaining the campaign objectives and ensure its messages reach a wide number of the youth, she added.
86.0% of persons living with HIV aged 15 to 64 know their HIV status. Of these, 96.4% are on ARVs, while 91.3% of these are virally suppressed and no longer spread HIV.
Unicef recommits to working with all its partners to see the day in which:
All children and adults living with HIV have access to life-saving ARV treatment so they can lead healthy, productive lives;
Babies are born free from HIV;
All men and women are protected from HIV infection,
And we have achieved an AIDS-free generation.