Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Jessica Long on Namibia’s milestone achievement in making available the best HIV drug, Dolutegravir (DTG)

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Today, Chargé d’Affaires Jessica Long celebrated with the MoHSS Namibia’s milestone in making the best HIV medicine available to all children and adolescents living with HIV.

Congratulations Namibia! I am very proud to be here today as I was invited to speak when the new pediatric HIV medicine was introduced in Namibia just over a year ago, and I followed closely the progress made since then. The children’s version of DTG (I understand we call it ‘Paediatric DTG’) was introduced in August 2021, just as the country was emerging from the devastating third wave of COVID-19. This made it more difficult to introduce a new drug into the country, but it did not deter the team. I was privileged to participate in a recorded Zoom call with Dr. Ashipala, the Chief Medical Officer of the Special Programs Branch within the Department of Health and Human Services, which was shared on social media and on Internet. I learned a lot during our conversation about this new drug, and I hope the public did too. What stood out to me was the description that it tastes like strawberry cream (I love strawberries! And most kids do too) and how much more effective it is than other medications against HIV (I always like things that work better!).

In just over a year, the Department of Health and Social Services and its partners have ensured that every eligible child has access to this new, more effective anti-HIV drug. Ensuring that people, especially children, have access to the best possible medicines is a monumental achievement. I am very proud to be here today to celebrate the fact that all children and adolescents in Namibia now have access to HIV medicines that are effective, have few side effects and are easy to take.

Even when a medicine is easy to take, like those with DTG, it can still be difficult for children to keep taking it every day. For chronic diseases such as HIV, the medicine must be taken every day to control the virus and maintain good health. I want to encourage all children and adolescents living with HIV to continue taking their medication. This drug is what we call a first-line drug because it is the best first-choice drug. The best way to stay healthy is to keep taking first-line medications for as long as possible.

I am keenly aware of the role that parents, caregivers and health care providers play in the daily support of children and adolescents living with HIV. Your roles are so important in making sure your children continue to take their medications. You remind them to take their meds, help them establish a routine where they remember to take them themselves, and build their self-confidence so they always have the courage to take their meds every day so that they can live their best life. Behind every child who has learned to keep taking their medication and who believes in themselves, there is a parent, caregiver, and healthcare professional who believed in them first. Thanks for all you’ve done.

The US government is proud to have supported the Namibian government to ensure that all children living with HIV have the opportunity to take the best HIV medications for them. Knowing about the benefits this drug brings to children and adolescents has been a huge motivation for the team involved, from the procurement team to the logistics team, including healthcare providers and technical teams providing the medicine to the communities. On behalf of those employed by the US government who have supported this progress, I can tell you that we are all so proud to be here today. The American team provided support in many areas. For example, we worked with the Ministry of Health to make the first purchases of DTG diets. We have worked with the ministry to develop educational materials that provide guidance to health workers and clinical mentors on how to switch Namibia’s more than 11,700 children living with HIV to this new drug. We have also worked closely with the ministry to monitor the progress of the transition, working together to develop plans to maintain momentum to ensure that all eligible children and adolescents are reached as quickly as possible. Through the PEPFAR OVC program, we also work with caregivers to ensure children adhere to treatment, are maintained on treatment, and are virally suppressed. On behalf of the United States President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I salute all the hard work that has gone into this transition. To our implementing partners, ITECH, PSM and Project HOPE Namibia, thank you for the work you have done to bring this medicine to the children of Namibia.

There was a time, not so long ago, that there were no drugs for HIV. When people were dying of AIDS. When children lost their parents and caregivers, and when families lost their children to a disease that had no cure. We have come so far. It’s a huge relief to know that we have drugs that mean HIV is a chronic disease that can be managed. We are proud to have supported the Department of Health and Human Services in this transition, and on behalf of the US government, I commend the leadership that has brought us to this milestone. It is no coincidence that Namibia has one of the most successful HIV programs in the world – it is the hard work of the Namibian government, the PEPFAR program, Namibian citizens and implementing partners.

Congratulations to all on this transition and may we meet again to celebrate more milestones together.

Thanks

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