AIDS Commission: 26,000 Women Living With HIV In Liberia

At the program marking the commemoration of National AIDS Day 2020 in Liberia

The National AIDS Commission has disclosed that an estimated 47,000 persons are 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 a program marking the commemoration of this year’s World AIDS Day.

    Theodosia S. Kolee, Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission, also disclosed 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, 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,” 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 for nearly four decades now HIV and AIDS have continued to pose public health threats to the world, including Liberia, with young people, women, marginalized and key populations becoming the exposed groups to new HIV infections.

   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 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 sex with men account for 37.9%, Female sex workers 16.7%, Transgender 27.6% and People who inject drugs 9.6%.

   For the vulnerable populations said uniformed service personnel account for 17.6%, long-distance transport workers, 14.4%, inmates, 5.6%, miners, 3.8%, and mobile traders, 3%.

   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 calls 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.

   Wokie Cole, President of the Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV, who served as keynote speaker, 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.

   The lack of a headquarters and county office 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,” Cole said.

   Cole, who is also living with HIV, said support groups of their organization that once had routine meetings and information sharing regarding how PLHIV can reach facilities for treatment have been abandoned due to logistical challenge, and wants government to intervene.    She also observed that the lack of access to medication for key population persons who are living with HIV in rural communities remains a challenge.

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