UN Reports Namibia's Marked Increase in Access to Antiretroviral Therapy

In the past two years, Namibia has made significant investment in combating HIV and the impact is beginning to show, according to a report released by UNAIDS, the United Nations’ joint agency on HIV and AIDS issues.

The report, released on November 21, shows that the number of new infections has declined by 21 percent since 1997, while the number of people dying from AIDS has declined by 21 percent since 2005, a trend attributed to increased efforts by countries to fight the spread of HIV while providing antiretroviral therapy to those infected.

“Even in a very difficult financial crisis, countries are delivering results in the AIDS response.” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “We have seen a massive scale up in access to HIV treatment which has had a dramatic effect on the lives of people everywhere.”

Antiretroviral treatment, according to UNAIDS, has reduced the number of new infections in Botswana by between 30% and 50%, in the wake of the southern African country’s efforts to reduce the number of deaths from AIDS related infections. Since 2000, Botswana has increased the accessibility of antiretroviral therapy from 5% of diagnosed cases to 80%.

“(ARV) treatment reduces the viral load of a person living with HIV to virtually undetectable levels,” the report said, adding “It also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to an uninfected partner.”

In 2010, there were an estimated 34 million people living with HIV in the world, and UNAIDS figures show that the number of people dying from AIDS related illnesses has decreased from 2,2 million in 2005 to 1,8 million in 2010.

“Namibia is in the forefront of reaping the benefits of such an approach. Over the last decade there has been a concurrent scale-up of HIV prevention and treatment programmes,” the report noted.

The report stressed that condom use in Namibia has increased to nearly 75 per cent amongst men; fewer than 11 per cent of men and two per cent of women had multiple partners; and that young people, particularly boys, were starting to have sex at an older age.

Meanwhile, the report expressed concern that almost 60 per cent of all people living with HIV do not know their status, thereby impeding their ability to look after their own health and that of their loved ones.

It suggested that to change this, HIV testing must become simple and as ubiquitous as home-based pregnancy test kits. 

Countries with a high burden of new HIV infections amongst children - including Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland - have likewise achieved universal access to services to prevent new HIV infections amongst children.

According to the report, the annual HIV incidence in South Africa, though still high, dropped by a third between 2001 and 2009 from 2.4 per cent. Similarly, the epidemic appeared to be declining in Botswana and Zambia. 

The report also noted that the epidemic seems to be levelling off in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland, albeit at unacceptably high levels.

Global treatment access has also reached an all-time high of 90 per cent.

The report added that to provide additional options for HIV treatment and prevention programmes, the quest for effective vaccines, easy-to-use drugs, with fewer side effects and less chance of resistance developing, microbicides, pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs and better diagnostic tools must continue.

Global outlook: 

Not all regions have noticed a decline in the number of new infections, and the report shows that some regions have actually seen an increase in new infections. Here is a breakdown of the regions, showing the trends observed.

Regions with increasing infection rates 

• Eastern Europe

• Central Asia

• North Africa

• Oceania

• Middle East

AIDS and the Economy 

The financial crisis has taken a significant portion of funding out of the fight against new infections, with NGOs cutting their funding by 10 percent from US$7,6 billion in 2009 to US$6,9 billion in 2010.

This comes against an increase in the need for funding, with UNAIDS projecting that in order to achieve the goal of universal access to therapy and support by 2012, at least US$22 billion dollars is required. In 2010, the report shows that there was at least US$15 billion available for support and care in low income countries.