Feature story

A national campaign aims to increase Namibian men's involvement in HIV health programmes

11 May 2011

A version of this story was first published at www.unicef.org 

Israel Ndeshaanya and Elisabeth Nagula, with their son, Nicolas.
Credit: UNICEF Namibia/2011/Manuel Moreno Gonzalez

Israel Ndeshaanya and Elisabeth Nagula live together with their 8-month old son, Nicolas, in Windhoek’s Katutura township.   

Elisabeth is HIV-positive and Israel is very supportive of her, ensuring that she takes her antiretroviral drugs regularly. "Since the day she came to know about her status, I’ve never said any bad words to her...We are just as we have been.”

When Elisabeth became pregnant with Nicolas, the couple went through Namibia’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV programme. Nicolas was born free of the virus. The programme was started almost a decade ago and has been rolled out to 238 of 335 health facilities across the country, treating some 59 000 pregnant women every year.

Men’s participation

However, in Namibia, men who get involved like Mr Ndeshaanya are relatively rare. As with many other countries, men’s participation in health programmes tends to be lower than that of women.

Recent research conducted by UNICEF and the Namibian government shows that only about 3% of male partners of women in the national antenatal care programme took a HIV test in 2010, compared to 96% of women.

It is not enough for Namibian men to provide the basic necessities such as a house, food, water, electricity for their families. They should also become actively involved in health issues such as the prevention of HIV

President Pohamba

The research also shows that men have a direct bearing on their partner’s adherence to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission intervention, accessed through the antenatal care programme. In some cases they can actively work against the goals of the intervention by delaying access to care or withholding financial assistance.

By contrast, supportive men clearly have a positive effect. According to Ian MacLeod, UNICEF Representative in Namibia, to dramatically reduce new HIV infections among children, men’s participation is of critical importance, “A comprehensive response is needed, combining training of health workers, specialized infant feeding counsellors, community level support to breastfeeding mothers...and, very importantly, mothers need the support of their husbands or partners."

New target

This fact is something that Namibian First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba aims to promote through her new campaign to reduce HIV prevalence, which is supported by President Hifikepunye Pohamba, UNICEF and other organizations.

Launching the campaign, the President emphasized the vital role men play in caring for the well-being of their partners and children.

“It is not enough for Namibian men to provide the basic necessities such as a house, food, water, electricity for their families. They should also become actively involved in health issues such as the prevention of HIV,” he said.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba has set an ambitious target for Namibia to increase participation by men in voluntary HIV counselling and testing from 3% to 25% by the end of 2011.

In Namibia an estimated 13% of the adult population is living with the virus and nearly 20% of all pregnant women are reported to be HIV-positive.