By: Siaway T. Miapue
Fellow, AAMIN Health and Human Rights Journalism Fellowship
Liberia seems to be making progress with the 95-95-95 strategy as the world prepares to end AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat, but much is still required, ranging from citizens involvement, political-will among others in achieving the strategy.
The 95-95-95 strategy is a set of new and ambitious targets adopted on June 8, 2014 by the United Nations General Assembly High-Level at a Meeting on AIDS, which calls on countries to: get 95% of people living with HIV aware of their HIV status; get 95% of people who know their status to be on HIV treatment; and for 95% of people on HIV treatment to be virally suppressed.
According to the strategy, if the global community works together and reaches theses targets, 3.6 million new HIV-infections and 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths will be prevented by 2030.
Speaking with a team of Anti-AIDS Media Network specialized health and human rights reporters, the Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Theodosia S. Kolee revealed that the country is working to ensure the achievement of the strategy, but stressed the need for more engagements at all fronts.
Madam Kolee said, “Currently as we stand, Liberia is at 68%, 89% and 65% for the first, second and third 95 respectively.
This means that in Liberia 68% of persons living with HIV have been tested, 89% of people tested HIV positive have been placed on treatment, and 65% of persons on treatment have a suppressed viral load.
“More people especially men are not getting tested, and it is an issue. So, there is a need for more awareness for people to be tested. It is important for awareness to be increased” she said.
Madam Kolee said, “While it is true that the achievement of this strategy requires political-will, we call on the National Legislature for budgetary allocation for the country’s HIV response which will help us achieve this strategy”.
Like Madam Kolee, the Program Manager of the National AIDS and STIs Control Program (NACP), Dr. Julia Toomey-Garbo stressed the need for political-will, and wants the legislature to live up to its commitment to increase budgetary allocation for HIV response in the country.
According to Dr. Toomey-Garbo, there has been commitment from the government over the years, but living up to the commitment has been the problem.
“Sometimes we meet the House of parliament and they commit that they are going to ensure support for the national HIV response, but such support is not forthcoming,” Dr. Toomey-Garbo said.
Dr. Toomey-Garbo furthered said “Government needs to commit to the country’s HIV response so that if even we can’t reach to zero, we should be able to reach to epidemic control where we will have the virus not being transmissible because those who are on treatment are undetectable”.
However, the Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV (LibNeP+), an umbrella organization of people living with and affected by HIV in the country sees efforts to end AIDS by 2030 from a different perspective.
Madam Josephine Godoe and Wokie Cole, Executive Director and President respectively of LibNeP+, cited HIV-related stigma and discrimination as undermining factors for the successful achievement of the triple-95 strategy by 2030.
“Stigma and discrimination have more part to play in hindering programs to achieve the 95-95-95 target by 2030, because people are being stigmatized in the community, health facilities and in the homes by family members, Madam Cole stated.
For her part, Madam Josephine Godoe observed that the third-95 (ensuring viral load suppression for persons on ART) as a major challenge to the achievement of the strategy due to a number of issues including drug stuck out, fatigue for PLHIV to remain on treatment among others.
“Because of drug stuck out, some PLHIV who come from far distances get tire in going to health facilities for fear that they might not receive drug when they get there. We need to address drug stuck out, it is becoming a storming back,” Madam Godoe said.
Another Civil Society organization, Stop AIDS in Liberia (SAIL) sees lack of domestic resource mobilization as other undermining factor for the National HIV response.
Mr. Evens Adofo Executive, Director of SAIL said bulk of the funding for Liberia’s HIV response is coming from donor partners, which does not speak well for the country regarding owning its own response.
“It is a dangerous thing to place our country’s HIV response in the hands of donor partners because one day they may not be interested in supporting us. It is now time we prepare and embrace the challenges ahead,” Mr. Adofo said.
He said, “Lot of the funding that drives our national response is all donors driven, so if any of those donors decides to say we are directing our attention elsewhere in Liberia, we will be at serious disadvantage in terms of reaching out services to those who need the services most importantly”.
The SAIL Executive Director said the need for National government to give more attention, ranging from budgetary allotment as well as to increase awareness in reducing the impacts of HIV and AIDS, stigma and discrimination.
According to a 2021 update, 27,000 persons living with HIV have been made to now know their status, 19,000 persons living with HIV are on now been placed on life saving ARV drugs, while national viral suppression rate has increased from 56% in January 2019 to 65% in December 2020.