By: Necus M. Andrews
The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) has taken a giant step in contributing to the country’s HIV response, by embarking on training its officers to lead the campaign on HIV index testing.
This National AIDS Commission (NAC) of Liberia has described as welcoming news, and called on other partners to emulate.
HIV index testing is a form of testing that focuses on family members, including children and partners of people diagnosed with HIV to be offered treatment.
Speaking in Monrovia at a three-day training of trainers for HIV Counselors and service providers, the chairperson of the National AIDS Commission of Liberia, Theodosia Kolee said given the increase wave of new HIV infections in the country, index testing is a smart strategy to address the impacts of the virus. The training was organized by the AFL with support from
Mrs. Kolee expressed delight that the introduction of index testing by the AFL for the first time in the country would help build trust and guarantee confidentiality in the national HIV response, thereby helping to reduce new infections.
According to the NAC Chairperson, this new form of HIV Counseling and testing strategy being initiated by the Liberian Army with support from the United States Government will aid the identification of more people living with HIV and placing them on treatment in line with the UNAIDS’ fast track approach.
She hopes that the index testing which seems new will take a root in the HIV response in to reduce sigma, discrimination and lost to follow up by persons living with HIV in the country, promising the commission’s support to the initiative because it is impactful.
“The training came at a time where Liberia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in the level of HIV infections, especially when majority family members do not know the status of their relatives. This situation is contributing to the increased numbers of new HIV infection annually,” the NAC Chairperson said.
She said the beginning of the index testing signifies the significant role the AEL continues to play in the country’s National HIV response, looking back at initiatives the AEL had undertaken to create awareness on prevention, HIV counseling and testing. Attended by more than 25 officers of the AFL including HIV counselors and Healthcare providers, the training was aimed at improving participants’ knowledge and skills in initiating index testing as a strategic direction for ending AIDS by 2030.
Madam Kolee: “This is crucial and historic in the Armed Forces of Liberia, because it is a unique kind of testing in which household (family members, especially children) and partners of people diagnosed with HIV are referred or encouraged to seek treatment.”
In remarks, the Chief of Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) at the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, Major Jason Armstrong praised the AFL for its demonstrated commitment in encouraging good health seeking behaviors in the country.
Major Armstrong urged the AFL to remain committed in caring for the people they serve as soldiers, and reiterated the U.S. embassy’s continues support to activities of the Liberian Army.
The AFL HIV program has over the years been supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. government’s response program to the global HIV and AIDS epidemic in responding to HIV issues in Liberia.
PEPFAR, a program managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), represents the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.