First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos, UNAIDS Special Advocate for Young Women and Adolescent Girls

Monica Geingos is a qualified lawyer and a highly experienced businesswoman. Before becoming the First Lady of the Republic of Namibia in 2015, Ms Geingos spent 15 years in the financial sector, as a private equity and governance expert. As First Lady she will seek to complement the President’s declaration of a “war on poverty” and will work with UNAIDS to champion the newly launched Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free agenda.

What motivated you to become involved in the response to HIV?

We all have a friend or relative who has been diagnosed with HIV. We have all seen the full spectrum of emotions that accompany HIV, from detection through to treatment. Most of all, all of us have experienced first-hand the devastating link between poverty, lack of education and vulnerability to HIV.

What motivated me is the idea that by ensuring a brighter future for women, especially young women and adolescent girls, they will escape from hopelessness and the idea that contracting HIV doesn’t make a difference.

Namibia has made great progress in reducing new HIV infections among children in recent years. What changes have you noticed in the country as a result?

Namibia has achieved tremendous results. Since 2001, new HIV infections have been reduced by 56% and mother-to-child transmission has reduced from 20% in 2001 to 4% in 2014. The success has resulted in a conviction that we can reduce mother-tochild transmission to zero by 2020. Intensive efforts are being made to ensure that new infections among young people are contained and that pregnant mothers are tested and have access to treatment, that children navigate the path to adolescence and adulthood HIV-free and that they remain HIV-free as adults. Our success has dared us to dream of an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime.

What do you think are the challenges to the response to HIV in Namibia?

Namibia’s exceptionally large size and low population translates into a country with the second lowest population density in the world, and two thirds of the population live in rural areas. These factors provide huge challenges in relation to the accessibility and continuous supply of health services and medicines.

In addition, Namibia is classified as an upper-middle-income country, but has one of the most unequal income distributions in the world. This classification of Namibia has resulted in the withdrawal of developmental partners.

These and other issues represent real challenges, but are not insurmountable. The exceptional progress that Namibia has made in reducing new HIV infections and deaths contextualizes how phenomenal the Namibian response has been.