By: Necus M. Andrews
The National AIDS Commission has disclosed that out of the estimated 47,000 persons living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a health condition that leads to the acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), if not properly managed.
The disclosure was made Tuesday by the National AIDS Commission of Liberia in Paynesville during programs marking the commemoration of this year’s World AIDS Day.
Madam Theodosia S. Kolee, Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission also discussed that men account for 17,000 while children from zero to 14 years account for 4,000 of individuals living with the HIV virus in the country.
In her opening remarks at the program, Madam Kolee told the gathering that these numbers send a strong signal to all citizens to that leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed in responding to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
She said eliminating stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV and key populations, putting people at the center by ensuring testing, treatment and viral load suppression and grounding responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending AIDS by 2030.
“We have seen how the COVID-19 crisis has worsened the challenges faced by people living with HIV, especially women, girls and key populations, in accessing life-saving healthcare, and how the crisis has expanded the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalized groups to HIV,” madam Kolee said.
According to her: “there is no time better than now for these two themes for this year World AIDS Day Commemoration: Globally, ” Global solidarity, shared responsibility,” and Nationally, “Get Involved, end AIDS together in Liberia, because only demonstrated, commitment and sustained collaboration from all, can achieve the vision of ending AIDS”.
The AIDS Commission boss said nearly four decades now, HIV and AIDS continue to pose public health threat to the world including Liberia, with young people, women, marginalized and Key populations becoming the exposed groups to new HIV infections.
Madam Kolee said “as we speak, the 2020 spectrum estimates show that an estimated 47, 000 persons are living with HIV in Liberia. Within this number, women account for 26,000, men 17,000 while children from zero to 14 years account for 4,000”.
Each year she said, an estimated, 1,900 persons get infected with the HIV virus in Liberia, while 1,700 persons die every year due to AIDS related complications.
She reminded that partners in the country’s HIV response that two other reports that the Commission insists, requires attention are the Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS 2018) and National Size Estimates which present a situation that if not addressed would undermine the achievement of the vision to end AIDS by 2030.
According to her, the IBBSS 2018 report shows an increased HIV prevalence among key and vulnerable populations in the country, which include, Female Sex Workers, Men who have Sex with men, Miners, People who inject drugs, uniformed service personnel, long distance transport workers, prisoners and transgender people, while the Size Estimates also shows an increased in the different key and vulnerable groups.
Quoted the report she said men who have men with men account for 37.9%, Female sex workers 16.7%, Transgender 27.6% and People who inject drugs account for 9.6%.
For the Vulnerable Populations said uniformed service personnel account for 17.6%, long distance transport workers at 14.4%, Inmates 5.6%, Miners 3.8% and mobile traders 3%.
Madam Kolee said: “this is a hard reality that we must face with inclusiveness and tolerance to ensure that no one is left behind in responding to the impact of HIV in the country. Both reports are wake-up call and, an opportunity for us to do things differently and better together in many aspects because defeating AIDS as a public health threat depends on how we can embrace and support key drivers, and those that are infected to seek treatment.
This year’s World AIDS Day is associated with a challenging moment with the presence of another co-infection disease, COVID-19 which has shown to the world that during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Madam Wokie Cole, President of the Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV who served as keynote speakers called on the Liberian government through the National AIDS Commission to prioritize and place persons living with HIV at the center of various prevention programs.
She wants government address issues of lost to follow which is due to traditional and religious healers claiming to have cure for HIV and weak medicine supply chain which is driving persons living with HIV from treatment center.
The lack of Headquarters and county offices for the Liberia Network of Persons living with HIV has made the coordination of its works almost impossible
“Currently, LIBNEP+, an umbrella organization of persons living with HIV in the country does not have an ideal office in the country; logistics is also a major problem, making us unable to reach out to the 15 counties to monitor drug stock out,” madam said.
She also observed that lack of access to medication for key population persons who are living with HIV in rural communities remains a challenge.