A new program for the fight against HIV/AIDS was on Monday launched in Monrovia, by President Johnson Sirleaf, Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
The Agenda for accelerating Country Action on Women, Girls, gender Equality and HIV, is to focus, as indicated in the name, on women and girls. Liberia was chosen by UNAIDS to be the pilot country for this very important fight against the HIV pandemic.
During the launch of the program at the Monrovia City Hall, Dr. Ivan Cominor, Director of the National AIDS Commission, gave the statistics of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Liberia.
“Liberia HIV prevalence information is based on the 2007 demographic and health survey.
The survey shows that HIV prevalence in the country to be at 1.5% in the general population (3.6 million), in the ages of 15 to 49 years. Over all the HIV prevalence among women is higher, at 1.8%, than men at 1.12%.
The difference in HIV rate between women and men is particularly strong in the younger ages with 1.3% among females, 0.4% among males of the same age group. This highlights a particular vulnerability of young women and girls.” He said.
Marion Whern, a young Liberian lady who lives with HIV/AIDS, explained her shattering experience. “I am a 35 years old woman living with HIV. I am the oldest child of five children from my mother.
I was a little girl when my parents got separated and my mother got into another relation to send my brothers, sisters and I to school. When my mother got pregnant from her new relationship my father caused trouble because traditionally my mother was still his property.
My mother then tried to abort the pregnancy but she died in the process. I was then 13 with 4 brothers and sisters to take care of. I was forced to drop out of school. To feed my brothers and sisters, I followed a friend to go in a big city where I got friendly with a trader who impregnated me. When my baby was three months old he got sick and died.
At the same time I was getting sick off and on. I was then advised to do HIV test which diagnosed me positive. My husband was not sick at that time. He sent me back to my father in the village. I was thrown out of the house by my father and my uncles.”
Following that cataclysmic narration, the Executive Director of UNAIDS took the podium to say that Liberia was chosen “to be the pilot country in this initiative because your President has demonstrated her seriousness in the fight for gender equality.”
For Princess Mathilde of Belgium, the HIV epidemic “cannot be contained until special attention is paid to women, girls and gender equality. The fact that Liberia has been chosen as a pilot country for this initiative by UNAIDS does not come as a surprise to me and I feel privileged to witness this launch in Liberia.
Madame President, you always place particular emphasis on women and girls so extremely vulnerable in a post conflict situation. Children’s rights are universal, women rights are universal, and the connection or promotion of these rights is of primary concern for us all. This is the reason why today this launch is so important, with an additional link to the fight against poverty.
Let me say that education is the key to both holding existing problems, and preventing others from rising. It gives access to the health system. It gives to people, especially women, the possibility of becoming economically self-sufficient.
It gives them opportunity to decide on matters that concern their own future. Your commitment to the specific protection of girls, through this agenda, will be an example for many countries. Liberia will lead the way to a better care system in the fight against HIV-AIDS.”