Namibia: Suicide And HIV - Communities Need to Be Involved


AIDS newsWonder Guchu, New Era, 11 Oct 2006

In a world that is slowly losing its sensibilities, the news of more than 40 people killing themselves does not mean much.

But to the suicide victims' families and those who knew them, to bury 40 people especially from the same region, the effects can be overwhelming.

It becomes even more complex when it is said most of the people who saw it fit to end their lives left suicide notes giving HIV and Aids as the reason why they had decided to die.

According to a report in one daily, Deputy Commissioner Ndahangwapo Kashihakumwa who is based in the Omusati Region in the north where the 40-plus people decided to die, said HIV/Aids was given as the primary cause.

"Some of them are those who are affected by the new illness, and said that they were tired of the bad treatment they received from their families and relatives. This is really a very serious situation facing Omusati Region and something has to be done to stop it," he said.

While suicide statistics for other regions in Namibia are not available, the situation in Omusati is a possible indicator of what it is like in other areas where HIV/AIDS patients choose suicide when their pain exceeds their resources for coping with the situation.

In his statement, Kashihakumwa said most of the HIV-positive people who committed suicide in Omusati pointed out that they were tired of being ill-treated.

And researches carried out worldwide prove that bad treatment of HIV/AIDS patients leads to acute depression which may further impair the immune function.

In recent years, suicide has become one of the top three causes of death among the 15-45 age groups and "individuals with AIDS are far more likely to be suicidal than the general population", according to the New York City State Department of Health's Task Force on Life and the Law research results carried in the document When Death is Sought.

In another study carried out in South Africa's Transkei - 'Suicide and HIV/AIDS in Transkei and South Africa' by Avil Aggrawal - it was discovered that the increase in suicides was possibly because of HIV infection's "devastating effects in terms of personal and family suffering".

"The disease is highly stigmatized and there are many instances of discrimination against sufferers and their families. This could lead to suicide, both in infected as well as affected individuals."

There are reports also that AIDS patients usually resort to suicide inside nine months of receiving results of their status.

In his statement, the Deputy Commissioner Kashihakumwa urged religious as well as traditional leaders to be involved in working towards a suicide-free region.

"The police have called on regional, traditional, church and other community leaders to get together to discuss this problem.

"We have church leaders, we have social workers in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, and I think if all those people who have problems can go to them and speak out their problems, they can be assisted," he said.

In seeking help from these quarters, the deputy commissioner was admitting that there is still need to revert to the old system where families helped in solving matters.

Omusati is considered one of Namibia's developed areas and as is the case, development elsewhere brings individualism and isolation. Families no longer take care of their own people emotionally and financially.

Communities are caught unawares and with little or no information about HIV/AIDS, most people see it as a sure death ticket. With no adequate knowledge on how to care for their wasting away relatives, most people are depressed and in turn pass on the depression to the infected who would see themselves as a problem and hence seek death. While suicide due to depression from HIV/AIDS is not unique to Namibia, the police officer's call on community leaders to act should be taken seriously.