Namibia
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Pepfar to continue funding Namibia

Head of the United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (Pepfar) John Nkengasong said the US will continue supporting Namibia to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS, despite the possibility of the country adopting an anti-gay marriage law as recently done in Uganda.

His comments come at a time when everyone is waiting on president Hage Geingob to announce whether he will sign the anti-gay marriage bills passed by the parliament and tabled by ruling Swapo party backbencher Jerry Ekandjo.

Nkengasong said they America have the same approach with Namibia as it did with Uganda, after both countries introduced anti-gay legislation recently.

He was speaking at a press briefing with African journalists on Tuesday.

Pepfar has reduced funding to Uganda after the country’s “regrettable” decision to enact an anti-gay law earlier this year.

The law, which was signed by the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, dictates that gay sex is punishable by life in prison and aggravated homosexuality – which includes transmitting HIV – is punishable by death.

“The fight against HIV-AIDS will not be won until populations in the country have rights and access to HIV-AIDS services. The law does the opposite,” Nkengasong said.

However, health minister Kalumbi Shangula maintains that the same will not happen to Namibia.

“There will be no reduction in funding in respect of Pepfar in Namibia. This was discussed with Dr Nkengasong when he visited Namibia recently,” Shangula told The Namibian yesterday.

He said Namibia’s health services are accessible and available to anyone who seeks and requires them.

“I made that clear when Dr Nkengasong visited Namibia recently,” Shangula said.

The health minister’s statement comes after Okalongo constituency councillor Laurentius Makana Iipinge, who is also a lawmaker in the National Council, wants anti-gay bills passed this week to be tightened even further, requiring hospitals to report gay people seeking treatment for criminal prosecution.

Nkengasong said they have general concerns with countries who have harsh punitive laws, such as Namibia’s recent two bills passed in response to the Supreme Court’s directive to recognise same-sex marriages legally concluded outside Namibia.

The first bill aims to redefine the term ‘spouse’ explicitly, referring to articles 81 and 4 of the Namibian Constitution to challenge the court’s decision.

The second bill focused on amending sections of the Marriage Act, including the definition of ‘marriage’, ‘same-sex marriage’, and ‘spouse’.

The bills seek to prohibit same-sex marriage, and the solemnisation and recognition of such marriages.

The law further criminalises advocacy and propagating same-sex marriages and provides for a N$100 000 fine or six years’ imprisonment.
“We should see this in the context of rights and dignity of the person.

“The right to access quality healthcare regardless of who you are,” he said.

Nkengasong believes everyone living within the boundaries of a given country, Namibia in this case, has to have the right to access quality healthcare without fear of discrimination, segregation and being criminalised.

“That is what we at Pepfar are making a case for. You will not win the war against HIV-AIDS and bring it to an end as a public health threat if you continue to segregate a whole segment of your population and discriminate against a segment and stigmatise the population,” he added.

During a recent visit to Namibia, Nkengasong announced that Pepfar will provide funding valued at US$88 million to support the national HIV/tuberculosis (TB) response for the year 2023.

Recently, Shangula indicated that there has been an upward trend in sexually transmitted infections in Namibia.

He said over the past five years, on average, more than 96 000 cases of sexually transmitted infections of different types have been recorded at health facilities around the country every year.

World Health Organisation Namibia head Charles Sagoe-Moses said Namibia now has a generalised HIV epidemic with 8,54% of Namibians living with HIV.

“The country is one of the first high burden countries to approach epidemic control estimated to be at 92-99-94, as defined by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) 95-95-95 treatment cascade.

New HIV infections have halved since 2004, and life expectancy increased by 12 years, from 51 years in 2001 to 63 years in 2020,” Sagoe-Moses said.