Namibian Program Requiring HIV-Positive People To Have ‘Treatment Supporter’ Could Hinder Access to Treatment, Critics Say
A Namibian program that requires HIV-positive people to have a "treatment supporter" before beginning antiretroviral therapy at public hospitals in the country could hinder access to treatment, some critics of the program have said recently, the New Era/AllAfrica.com reports. Critics of the program also have said it violates patients' right to confidentiality.
A treatment supporter typically is a family member, partner or friend older than age 18 who has been educated about HIV/AIDS and helps people living with the disease adhere to their treatment regimens, Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi said. According to the New Era/AllAfrica.com, treatment supporters also can:
- Encourage abstinence or condom use;
- Help HIV-positive people keep medical appointments;
- Remind people to take medications;
- Tell health workers about any problems that might affect treatment;
- Ensure the patient does not abuse alcohol and drugs; and
- Contact home-based caregivers as necessary.
Kamwi said the requirement that HIV-positive people have a treatment supporter is necessary to help meet the government's goal of prolonging the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. "The objective is to prolong life, and we are looking at a viable way of doing this," Kamwi said, adding, "We encourage ... that the client has a supporter because if they start the medication and then stop, their life is shortened."
The HIV/AIDS Law Unit at the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia has said the requirement violates HIV-positive people's right to make decisions regarding their treatment. According to the law unit, HIV-positive people might not want to seek a treatment supporter out of fear of stigma, discrimination, exclusion or loss of confidentiality.
Kamwi said that the policy does not violate human rights and that all World Health Organization member states have similar policies. Salvator Niyonzima, UNAIDS country coordinator in Namibia, supported Kamwi's position and said that different countries have developed different strategies to encourage HIV-positive people to adhere to their treatment regimens. He added that the treatment supporter policy was introduced because many people reported difficulty in following treatment recommendations.
More than 230,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Namibia, 52,000 of whom were in need of treatment access at the end of 2006 (Sibeene, New Era/AllAfrica.com, 12/12). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.