By: Gloria Wleh/LHRN Fellow
The United Nations in its Seventy-fifth Session on June 8, 2021, adopted a political declaration pledging “urgent, transformative action to stop global AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Liberia, a founding member of the United Nations was among 165 United Nations member countries that voted in favor of the declaration.
Since 2021, the country through the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and National AIDS Control Program (NACP) has taken some broad-based approaches to be on par with other countries in achieving the 2030 goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
Some of these approaches include collaborating with various line ministries, agencies, and implementing partners to address different confronting issues.
Currently, Liberia has a five-year roadmap document, the National HIV Strategic Plan II (NSP II) which runs from 2021-2025 which puts the country on track to reach the Fast Track target by 2030.
The 2030 goal anticipates testing 95% of people living with HIV, placing 95% of people tested on treatment, and ensuring 95% virus load suppression for people on treatment.
If this is achieved, the impacts of the HIV and AIDS pandemic will significantly be brought under control because the virus will no longer be detected in people infected, and they will no longer transmit it to others.
The National AIDS Commission had said, it is on course with programs to place the country among achieving countries by 2030, but some civil society actors think the country needs to put some mechanisms in place first if the country must achieve the goal.
Madam Chinnie Sieh, Clinical Director of Hope of Dignity (HOD) in Brewerville, is of the opinion that Liberia may not end AIDS by 2030 if the needed support is not given to those who are working in the response.
Madam Chinnie Sieh, Home of Dignity Clinical Director
“It will be very difficult for us as a country to meet up with the 95-95-95 target because a lot needs to be done in the fight against HIV before 2030,” Madam Sieh said.
She said, “Reaching HIV 95-95-95 target is far from achieving the benchmark. As we speak, we experience frequent stock out of antiretroviral drugs (ARV) for persons living with HIV at various health facilities in the country including Home of Dignity. When this happens, it puts us one step behind in terms of progress.”
Mr. Batie Nah, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer (M&E) at the Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV (LibNeP+) also thinks there are issues that need to be dealt with, for the country to be on par with global efforts.
Mr. Nah said, “Liberia still has a long way to go in order to end AIDS especially when it comes to enrollment of persons living with HIV in care, and testing people in the rural counties. I see it a little bit challenging and difficult for us to reach the 2030 goal.”
In an interview with a team of reporters from the Liberia Health and Rights Journalists Network in Monrovia, Mr. Nah disclosed that the country usually experiences a scarcity of HIV test skits, thus making people to be disinterested in showing up for testing.
“Test kits are scarce in the country and they are procured solely by partners. There is a need for government’s funding and political commitment to the national HIV response in order to end the pandemic at the time the global body is targeting,” Batie said.
Mr. Nah lauded the Liberian government’s effort in creating an enabling environment for the national HIV response, but wants such effort to be manifested in committed political will through the involvement of the President to ensure domestic resource allocation.
“When it comes to funding it is wholly international donors, the government is not giving anything for HIV response in the country regarding money,” Nah stated.
The Liberia Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, Diversity and Equality (LIPRIDE) believes that the involvement of key populations and minority groups is also critical in ensuring Liberia’s preparedness to end AIDS by 2030.
Mr. Maxwell W. Monboe, Coordinator of LIPRIDE said, “Liberia is still behind when it comes to meeting the 2030 global target because there are laws that still discriminate certain groups of people like the key populations”.
“We still have laws on our books that discriminate a group of people like female sex workers, men have sex with men (MSM) and the list goes on. What we forget to realize is that these groups of people are mostly affected and infected by the HIV situation,” Maxwell said.
Mr. Monboe observed that: “It is because of those laws that people are afraid to come out to be tested, and even if they are tested, they are afraid to show up for treatment.”
The LIPRIDE Coordinator expressed disappointment in the weak implementation of laws that provide protection for persons living with HIV, marking particular reference to the country’s HIV law.
For example, Maxwell said the L$1,000 fines placed in the law for violator (s) who disclose an HIV status of someone is weak, and a mockery to efforts to address stigma and discrimination.
He said this could undermine the country’s efforts to achieve the global target.
“We need to place emphasis on awareness and education about HIV epidemic to keep reminding people that the virus still exists. We need to also remove the belief that the virus is a death sentence.
Maxwell: “Government should revisit discriminatory laws on our books and allocate more money in the national budget for HIV response if the country must be on track with the UN global target to end HIV by 2030”.
Liberia has a generalized HIV epidemic with reproductive aged population showing HIV prevalence of 2.1%. The UNAIDS 2021 Spectrum Estimates puts the number of persons living with HIV at 34,358.
The National AIDS Commission of Liberia said, Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa counties have the highest HIV prevalence among the 15 counties. The three counties accordingly account for about 70% of the HIV burden in the country.
Authorities of the National AIDs Commission (NAC) and National AIDS Control Program (NACP) were contacted to respond to concerns raised by these stakeholders, but declined to talk for unexplained reasons.
This fellowship story was supervised by the Liberia Health and Rights Journalists Network (LHRJN), with funding from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).