Anti-AIDS Media Network, a local based media organization in collaboration with the National AIDS Commission (NAC) has trained 30 Liberian journalists to effectively report on HIV issues in the country. The issues of human rights, accessibility to treatment, and equity topped the training.
Making a presentation during the training, the program manager of the Population Services International (PSI) Cyriaque Y. Ako, said if Liberia is to achieve the prevention approach 90, 90, 90 by 2020, there is a need for the Liberian Government to protect the rights of all by providing them access to treatment facilities.
During his presentation, the PSI program director said his organization is working to ensure that HIV rate is reduced or eradicated with a focus on those he calls key population.
Key population according to him is men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, drug users and transgender respectively.
Although the issue of same sex marriage or men having sex with men has been a major point of contention in Liberia over the years and the constitution strongly prohibits such act in the society, but during Mr. Ako’s presentation he said “The Liberian Government has signed protocols to protect the rights of all including MSM”.
He referenced a protocol which he said was signed by the Liberian Government in Dakar, Senegal as one of the instruments the government has signed on to protect rights for all.
He said discrimination and stigma are two key things that have caused setback in the fight against HIV.
Speaking earlier, Mr. Necus Andrews, head of the Anti-AIDS Media Network of Liberia said the National AIDS Commission in partnership with his institution saw it important to train Liberian journalists to report accurately without stigmatizing persons living with HIV in the Liberian society.
He said “we have not come to promote the act of gay activities like others have been thinking, what we are concern about is for journalists to report stories about HIV and AIDS without stigmatizing anyone living with the virus”.
According to Mr. Andrews, the national HIV response has always identified certain population groups including Sex Workers (SWs), Men having Sex with Men (MSM), and People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) as the Key Populations in Liberia, the group he said has wide variation in HIV prevalence.
He indicated that the HIV prevalence in the 2013 IBBSS study shows that MSM have the highest HIV prevalence (19.8%) followed SWs (9.8%), and then the uniform service (Immigration, Police, and Customs) and PWIDs each have HIV prevalence of 5%.
He said other key populations that have HIV prevalence of below 5% are transport workers (4.8%), and mobile traders (4.5%). With prevalence just below the 1.9% in the general population, the youth, particularly out of school youth, are a vulnerable group for HIV infection.
The Media AIDS network boss said “all these people are among us every day, we interact with them, and we all sharing the same girlfriends; so, it is just important for them to get access to treatment which is their right”.
According to him, the media can make AIDS programming a key part of their output and, indeed, their corporate strategy, he said it can be done in a number of ways, including giving the epidemic prominent news coverage, dedicating airtime/space to HIV/AIDS public service messages, supporting the broadcasting of HIV/AIDS special programming, supporting the development of AIDS storylines in existing programming.