HIV/AIDS Hindering Namibia’s Progress in Improving Child Health
The spread of HIV/AIDS in Namibia over the past decade has halted the country's gains in improving children's health, and some organizations are calling for improved access to health care services and programs addressing poverty and hunger, South Africa's Mail and Guardian reports. Namibia was on track to reduce its child mortality rates until 2000, when child mortality rates began to increase. Ian McCleod, Namibia's representative for UNICEF, said that 50% of all child deaths among children under age five are because of HIV-related conditions such as malnutrition, low birthweight, premature births, immune deficiency, pneumonia and diarrhea.
Some experts say that HIV/AIDS will cause at least a six-year delay in the country's child health development. According to the Mail and Guardian, this makes it unlikely that the country will decrease child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 -- a target in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. McCleod said it will take "at least until 2021" for Namibia to reach MDG targets for child mortality. He said the country's goal would have been met "if particular attention had been paid to neonatal health once the HIV pandemic hit the country." According to the consortium of nongovernmental organizations NANGOF, the impact of HIV on children's health is especially strong because of high levels of poverty and lack of access to health care services. Anna Beukes, executive director of NANGOF, said Namibia has a "good health policy framework" but that the country's "failure is to translate it into practice and enforce it," causing the country to "[lose] all the good work that has been done so far." She added that socioeconomic factors like poverty and inequality "have a gender and age dimension, affecting women and children more severely."
Although Namibia spends about 6% of its gross domestic product -- about $77 per capita -- on health care, the majority of the Health Department's budget is spent on administration, the Mail and Guardian reports. Beukes said that only about 3,000 of the country's 10,000 health workers are doctors and nurses, leaving about 7,000 people employed as ancillary staff and administrators. She said that the country's health sector is "deteriorating" and that people living in rural areas -- about 85% of the population -- do not have access to basic and maternal health care.
The Mail and Guardian reports that Namibia, which has a population of two million, had about 250,000 orphans and vulnerable children in 2006. About 50% of orphans in Namibia have lost a parent to AIDS. Beukes said that NANGOF is calling for improved social services and safety nets for communities impacted by HIV/AIDS. She said that if a person's "basic needs are fulfilled ... there [is] a basis for health development," adding that if a "child is integrated in a strong community structure, it has much higher chances to survive" (Palitza, Mail and Guardian, 4/9).