Inequalities Undermine HIV Fight In Liberia

By: Jonathan O. Grigsby, Snr. Contributor

MONROVIA- Liberia, as a member state of the United Nations will be joining other member countries around the world to commemorate World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is commemorated every year on December 1. 

The Day set aside by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) in 1988 is to provide an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and to remember those who have died of AIDS-related complications.

In observance of World AIDS Day in Liberia, the Government of Liberia’s institution responsible for related HIV / AIDS issues, the National AIDS Commission (NAC) has embarked of a series of activities in celebration of the Day.

Some of the activities include; round table dialogue on the reduction of stigma and discrimination in ensuring zero new HIV related discriminatory laws, regulations and policies existence and  the Launch of US$1 rally to raise domestic funding to address gap identified in the National Strategic Plan implementation.

Others  activities are mass media awareness to enlighten Liberians that HIV is still here, and remains a threat to the country’s health, economic, social and political sectors as well as Community Outreach that will allow social workers to raise awareness on HIV prevention, distribution and education on the use of condoms and HIV testing across several communities.

This year’s World AIDS Day is being commemorated under the global Theme, “Equalize”, with the national Theme: “End Inequalities; End HIV in Liberia.”

Addressing a news conference Monday at the National AIDS Commission (NAC) head office on UN Drive in Monrovia, the Commission’s Chairperson, Madam Theodosia Kolee, pointed out that inequalities are one of the key elements that continue to undermine the fight against HIV in Liberia.

Madam Kolee: “Inequalities which perpetuate the AIDS pandemic are not inevitable; we can tackle them, and join UNAIDS in urging each of us to address inequalities which are holding back progress in ending AIDS. 

She informed journalists that as part of the global community, we have only eight years left before the 2030 goal of ending AIDS as a global health threat and indicated with the economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities which undermine our efforts must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Madam Kolee stressed that in a pandemic, inequalities intensify the dangers for everyone; the end of AIDS can only be achieved if we tackle the inequalities which drive it.

She also said policy makers and state actors need to act, and everyone, everywhere, must do all they can to help tackle inequalities too and urged them to  change their  attitudes toward people infected and affected by HIV, especially key and vulnerable populations.

The Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission called on the Liberian Government and international health partners to translate their commitments into measurable policy change and programmatic interventions that result in the enjoyment of HIV-related rights.

“There is no way we can end AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat which stigma and discrimination which also remain major storming blocks are not brought under control; this is why collective effort is require”, Madam Kolee added.

She said to reach the 2030 benchmark policymakers, state actors and partners must take bold, deliberate and strong political actions by increasing the availability, quality and suitability of services, for HIV treatment, testing and prevention, so that everyone is well-served, reform laws, policies and practices to tackle the stigma and exclusion faced by people living with HIV and by key and marginalized populations, so that everyone is shown respect and is welcomed as well as allowing communities to make use of, and adapt the “Equalize” message to highlight the particular inequalities they face and to press for the actions needed to address them.

Madam Kolee wants the scaling up of HIV treatment to reach the 95-95-95- level for persons living with HIV, the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 2 percent, scaling up of HIV combination prevention to reach 90 percent of the general population and scaling up of HIV interventions to reach 60 percent of the estimated key population.

She is at the same time calling for combined efforts to ensure access to relevant HIV prevention services, voluntary HIV counseling and testing; affordable treatment, and high-quality care and support services for people living with HIV including key and vulnerable populations.

Madam Kolee however thanked the National AIDS and STIs Control Program, Liberia Network of persons living with HIV, LIPRIDE Coalition, UN partners and other international partners for combining a strong partnership over the years to holistically address the HIV and AIDS situation in Liberia.

Also speaking, the President of Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV, Wokie Cole, said stigma and discrimination are challenged members of the Network are faced with.

Madam Cole said because of stigma and discrimination many people with HIV are operating underground and cannot come out publicly as she and others have done something, she says do not augur well for Liberia in the fight against HIV. 

She said despite the challenges being faced by the Network, its members are committed in fight against the HIV and it will collaborate with the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and UNAIDS and other related organizations to ensure Liberia reaches the 2030 benchmark.

Key Population

Key populations according to  UNAIDS  are gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who inject drugs and prisoners and other incarcerated people as the five main key population groups that are particularly vulnerable to HIV and frequently lack adequate access to services.

People with HIV Globally

Globally, 38.4 million [33.9–43.8 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2021.

An estimated 0.7 percent [0.6-0.8%] of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide are living with HIV, although the burden of the epidemic continues to vary considerably between countries and regions.

Liberia HIV Situation

The South-Central Region has the highest prevalence of 2.8 percent among the five regions. Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa counties have the highest HIV prevalence among the 15 counties and together account for about 70% of the burden of disease in the country.

The annual death rate as a result of AIDS-related complications in Liberia is put at 900, while 1,000 persons get infected with HIV every year.

Amidst this, the response to HIV is further being challenged by the 2018 Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS), which indicates a high HIV prevalence among key and vulnerable populations in the country.

The report shows that men who have sex with men account for 37.9 percent of HIV prevalence, 9.6 percent for People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs, 14.4 percent for transport workers and 16.7 percent for female sex workers                                       

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