Father Richard Bauer is a Maryknoll Missionary who has worked in Africa since 1997. He came to Namibia in 2003 and he is now serving as Director of Catholic Aids Action, the Namibia Catholic Bishops’ Conference outreach program for Hiv/Aids. “This is the largest nongovernmental provider of services for people with Aids in the country – he says. We have 14 offices throughout the country, plus a central office for administration. We are focusing on four main areas. The first is home based palliative care, looking at adults and children living with Hiv. 2300 volunteers offer this service, providing home care services to those affected by the pandemic. The second is support to orphans and other vulnerable children. We provide services to 16 thousands children. Some of them are Hiv positive of other we do not know the status, but all of them are the most vulnerable children in the community. The third area is prevention education. We focus on youth and the under 18. We do not want to duplicate the work done by other projects. We are reaching 11000 youth each year with a comprehensive message. Since we started this project among the youngest member of society the incidence of Hiv infection has been halved. I cannot claim the credit for it, but certainly we helped reaching this target. The fourth area is operating a free scanning volunteering counselling and testing centre in a highly populated area in the north. We do 7000 tests a year, half of them with a mobile unit that go to the villages. Those testing positive are referred to counselling and antiretroviral therapy and home care and support”.
You work with a large number of children …
It is a large number, yet we estimate that vulnerable children in the country number over 120,000! So we feel we are doing still little. Other NGOs are working in the same area. Also the government has done an outstanding job in offering support to the poorest children. Some of these children have engaged in transactional sex to cater for school fees, food, and basic necessities. So tackling poverty is a main task.
Is there cooperation between the different groups working to fight Hiv/Aids?
There is cooperation between Church and government. I work with the ministry for gender equality and the ministry of health and social services. It is a wonderful relationship. We have been evaluating the status of numerous children, and the ministries are accepting our results. They do not have enough staff and social workers to do the job, especially in rural areas. So children are given support. We are preparing a memorandum of understanding: the government will provide clinic based services for people with Aids, we shall provide community and home based care services. The memorandum should allow us to have an even smoother relationship and better service to those who need them.
Who are the most vulnerable to the pandemic?
In Namibia the most vulnerable section of society is between 25 to 36 years of age. This is the group with the highest incidence of Hiv/Aids. We have done a good job in targeting the youth, asking them to wait for sex, to concentrate on education. The program worked. The following group is still in danger. On this issue, there is great regional variability. In some areas, the first sexual experience is at 11 years of age. No matter the way you look at it, all agree this is too early. We realize we need to reinforce proper education and tackle the social structures there. In other areas things are better. We give the message that children under 18 should stay in school. We are part of a campaign that reaches out to younger adults and invites them to reflect on their sexual life. We do not have a question of polygamy here, but there is an issue of multiple partners, which fuels the epidemic. We ask people to remain committed to a sexual partner.
Do people appreciate the work of the Church in social issues?
Yes, they appreciate the Church involvement. They trust our volunteers as Church people. They trust the confidentiality. They also appreciate we work with anybody; we do not target only our people, but everyone. Our volunteers used to be only Catholic, but now we have people from every section of society. The government is also grateful and ready to recognize the role of the Church in this field.