By Bridgett Milton
Liberia: As the world is getting ready to celebrate World Aids Day, the Chairperson of the National Aids Commission (NAC) Madam Theodosia S. Kolee says Liberia needs a strong political will to fight HIV.
Addressing a news conference Monday, 15 November 2021, Madam Kolee said Liberia as a member of the Global Partnership for Action to eliminate all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, must do all as a country to implement its portion of the commitment.
She urged that Liberia scale up HIV treatment to reach the 95-95-95- level for persons living with HIV, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 2%, scale-up HIV combination prevention to reach 90% of the general population, and scale-up HIV interventions to reach 60% of the estimated key population.
For this to happen, Madam Kolee suggested that it requires strong political will from policymakers, especially the legislators by considering domestic budgetary allocation for HIV intervention programs.
Further, she indicated that Liberia cannot afford to miss out or leave behind other countries in ending AIDS by 2030.
“We are grateful to our international partners, but we feel strongly that the time for policymakers to consider domestic financial support is now,” Kolee added.
She continued that Liberia must do all as a country to implement its portion of the commitment by ensuring that no New HIV – related discriminatory laws, regulations and policies are passed.
She also urged that Liberia repeal all existing HIV – related discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies on its books, and 90% of persons living with HIV and members of the key population have access to justice and can challenge rights violations.
The NAC Chairperson explained that Liberia has a generalized HIV epidemic with a reproductive-aged population showing HIV prevalence of 2.1%, according to the 2013 LDHS, even though UNAIDS 2021 Spectrum Estimates show 1.1%, with an estimated HIV population of 35,000.
Kolee noted that HIV prevalence is higher in urban (2.6%) than in rural (0.8%) areas. She said the South-Central Region has the highest prevalence of 2.8% among the five regions and Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa Counties have the highest HIV prevalence among the 15 counties.
Together, she said they account for about 70% of the burden of disease in the country.
At the same time, Madam Kolee has outlined activities leading to this year’s World Aids day celebration.
Kolee said in observance of this year’s World AIDS Day celebration, they have earmarked a series of activities to be implemented in line with the UNAIDS’ Strategy to ensure a bold call to action to get on the Fast-Track and reach people being left behind.
She said it is an urgent call to front-load investments and a call to reach 95-95-95 by 2030. Madam Kolee added that the national HIV response is now being guided by a new strategic document, known as the National Strategic HIV Plan II (NSP II) which runs from January 2021 to December 2025. She said it will fast-track the country’s effort towards ending AIDS.
“The NSP is informed by lessons learned from past interventions and the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a focus on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages” she noted.
According to her, in a quest to reduce stigma and discrimination against persons living HIV and key populations, they have planned a policy dialogue, to bring key policymakers, state actors, and partners on the realities of stigma and discrimination faced by PLHIV and Key Population and as indicated in the goal two (2) of the NSP.
She said the dialogue will bring together senior actors in the National HIV response, heads of national and international institutions, implementing partners, and representatives of the affected populations.
Kolee also added the coordinated community awareness to provide an opportunity for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of HIV and encourage progress in prevention, treatment, and discourage stigma and discrimination as part of this year’s celebration.
She said the awareness will also focus on the importance of HIV viral load monitoring and distribution of BCC/IEC materials in communities and schools. The communities will witness the HIV testing and distribution of condoms.
Also speaking, the Country Director of UNAIDS Liberia Pepukai Chikuwa said the infection rate in Liberia now has dropped by 50% because most people are on treatment now and they are working with people to stop stigmatizing and discrimination of people infected with HIV.–Edited by Winston W. Parley