UNDP engages Namibian communities in conversation on HIV/AIDS
Katima Mulilo, Namibia – What causes people to have more than one sexual partner at a time? “Sexual desire and satisfaction”; “It is a cultural and social norm”; “Poverty and hunger; it’s a way to survive.” These are just some of the perspectives that came out when communities under four traditional authorities from the Caprivi region, in the Northeast of Namibia, came together to talk about what is known as “multiple and concurrent partnerships”.
This community conversation is one of many that are taking place in nine regions of the country as part of a nationwide programme that engages communities in dialogue on the causes of HIV and AIDS, boosting local responses to the epidemic.
The programme is known as “Community Capacity Enhancement through Community Conversations”. It is being implemented by the Namibian Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, with the support of UNDP in Namibia.
“Long ago, marriages were respected. Nowadays, we have left this culture behind and both men and women have multiple sexual partners”, said one participant. Multiple and concurrent partnerships have been identified as one of the main reasons why HIV has spread so rapidly in Namibia. According to data from the latest Namibia Demographic and Health Survey of 2006-07, 16 percent of sexually active men and 3 percent of sexually active women said they had two or more than two partners over the previous 12 months in 2006.
“By bringing together men, women and all those affected by HIV and AIDS, this approach gives people the opportunity to make their voices heard, to identify their needs and to be counted when decisions about HIV and AIDS interventions are made,” says the Manager of UNDP’s Community Capacity Enhancement Programme, Immanuel Mwilima.
Community Capacity Enhancement through Community Conversations is a tried and tested methodology to boost the capacity of communities to identify concerns, deliberate on solutions and map out courses of action around HIV and AIDS.
The approach opens up spaces for discussions based on relationships of trust and mutual respect.
To date, communities in 9 regions are conducting community conversations, with impressive results. In the Caprivi region, traditional leaders have lead by example, going for voluntary counselling and testing and breaking the stigma associated with testing. In the words of one leader: “It is shocking that many of our relatives and loved ones have died because of HIV and AIDS. Some of them passed away when they were still searching for Anti-Retroviral Treatments. If this programme had come sooner, our relatives would have been alive today.”
Many challenges still remain in the fight against HIV and AIDS, however. For instance, 17.8% of pregnant women are HIV-positive. “One of the biggest challenges facing rural communities in relation to accessing treatment, care and support services is stigma, discrimination, cultural norms and practices. Community Capacity Enhancement gives communities an opportunity to have an introspection of their cultural practices, norms and values,” says Lebogang Motlana, the Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Namibia. While Namibia is among the five countries most affected by HIV around the world, the epidemic is now demonstrating a downward trend after peaking at 22% in 2002.
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