Namibia Commended in HIV and Hepatitis B Battle

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By Bonface Orucho

Namibia, which has one of the highest budgeted health spends per person on the continent, has earned recognition from the WHO for drastically reducing transmissions of both HIV and Hepatitis B, sparking hope in Africa’s fight against these health challenges.

Namibia is making significant strides in combating the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis B from mother to child, showcasing the effectiveness of government-led initiatives in addressing these two global health challenges, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On Monday (May 6), the WHO awarded Namibia with “silver tier” and “bronze tier” certifications for its progressive trends towards reducing hepatitis B and HIV, respectively.

According to Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, this achievement highlights the growing ability of African states to achieve vital health milestones through “committed political leadership and effective implementation of public health priorities.”

“With concerted efforts, we can accelerate progress to reach the goals of ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis—the triple elimination,” she explained in a statement following the certification.

WHO guidelines show a country qualifies for a “silver tier” certification if at least 50% of newborn babies are vaccinated against a virus (in this case, hepatitis B). For “bronze tier” certification for HIV, countries are recognised after reducing mother-to-child transmissions to less than 5%.

Namibia has avoided 28,000 vertical HIV transmissions while enhancing HIV testing universally for all expectant mothers across the country, leading to a 70% reduction in mother-to-child transmission over the past twenty years.

By 2022, only around 4% of babies born to HIV-positive parents contracted the virus, while around 80% of Namibian children are vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Attainment of these critical health milestones in Namibia is attributed to state-led efforts to integrate primary health care with antenatal, child health and sexual and reproductive health services.

According to the WHO, finance availed by the state to facilitate national health programmes has aided wide access to quality and free clinical services for citizens.

Namibia’s budget allocations to the health sector stand at 16.6% of the total budget in 2022/23 fiscal year. UNICEF estimates the average per capita spending in the sector at US$407 (N$6,500.00), making health spending in Namibia one of the highest in Africa.

Notably, in the Abuja Declaration of 2001, African governments committed to allocating at least 15% of their government budgets to health, to manage the continent’s most pressing needs.

According to a 2020 report in Africa Renewal, a digital magazine of the UN, only a handful of countries had managed to allocate the required 15% by 2018.

“African countries spend $8 to $129 per capita on health, compared to high-income countries that spend above $4,000,” Africa Renewal reported.

HIV and hepatitis are some of the biggest health threats on the continent. In 2022, 25.6 million people were living with HIV in the African region, out of whom 380,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses.

According to the Africa CDC, the African region has the highest prevalence of the hepatitis B virus (HBV), with 82.3 million people living with chronic HBV infection.

“Two of every three children infected with HBV globally are born in Africa and HBV infection acquired at birth or in early childhood is a major cause of primary liver cancer in adulthood,” the Africa CDC noted in 2023 during World Hepatitis Day.

The triple elimination initiative encourages countries to simultaneously end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and HBV, in line with a global push for universal and integrated health service delivery.

Beyond Namibia, Botswana is the only other African country to be certified for being on track to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV, having earned a similar recognition in 2021.

This milestone is crucial not only for Namibia but also for Africa, as countries aspire to replicate the success of the southern African country in achieving WHO’s “triple elimination” targets.

According to Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UNAIDS Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, this is especially critical for children, as many countries fail to provide children with the quality of treatment reserved for adults.

“Namibia has fought against this injustice and we are proud to celebrate their immense effort to leave no child behind. They serve as a beacon for the entire region.”

By Bonface Orucho, Bird Story Agency

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