Several civil society organizations working on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV prevention and Human rights issues have concluded a day long dialogue with stakeholders to brainstorm on advocacy strategies in the country.
The event, organized by the Liberia Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, Diversity and Equality (LIPRIDE) with support from FORUMSYD in collaboration with Actionaid, was aimed at discussing workable ways of preventing HIV through creation of an enabling environment for SRHR and other human rights related issues.
A total of 50 stakeholders from civil society, rights groups and other national partners, discussed, among other things, the need to respect rights of key and vulnerable populations in preventing HIV infection in the country.The dialogue also focused on ways to promote inclusive and adequate health services for People living with HIV, sex workers and other vulnerable groups in the Country, giving the focus of the new HIV and National Strategic Plan (NSP).
Panelists at the dialogue observed that assessing the utilization of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) by rights groups to support the promotion and protection of key population and the resilience of the community from the religious perspective is the best strategy to leaving no one behind in promoting nondiscrimination, acceptance and inclusive society.
According to the 2013Liberia Demographic Health Survey (LDHS) 39,000 people representing 2.1% are living with HIV in Liberia, with huge portion of this number representing key population including men who have sex with men, female sex workers, transgender, Uniform Security Personnel and long distance drivers, among others.
Only half of these people are on treatment, while others lack access to treatment due to stigma and discrimination.
Liberia is working with the rest of the world to achieve the UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets by the end of this year 2020. The 90-90-90 is a preventive strategy that wants to test 90 percent of people living with HIV, 90 percent of those tested should be placed on treatment and 90 percent of those on treatment should have viral load suppressed.
Currently, Liberia is at 68% of the first 90, 53% at the second 90 and 61% at the third 90.
During the dialogue, panelists argued that the lack of reformed laws to support the promotion of health was undermining the prevention of HIV and AIDS in the country, because key population members are being denied access to health services due to their health status and sexuality.Joe Wellington, an executive of LEGAL,a right group called for a robust Human Rights approach on HIV if the country must succeed in ending AIDS by 2030.
Joe observed that there are policies and regulations being enforced in the country, contrary to the true meaning of the Liberian constitution, which protects every citizen.
“Relying on international instruments should not be the case; therefore, visible declaration on recognition of the Key Pops within the national context,” Joe said.
Karishma Richards, Executive Director of the Transgender Network of Liberia (TNOL), indicated that HIV response should be looked at in a Human Rights perspective and that no one should be denied quality health care.
Karishma who identified as transgender woman said the achieving the 90-90-90 target will be solely on the inclusion of all affected and there is a need to provide space for all regardless of sexual orientation.
Karishma mentioned that “huge stigma in the community as a result of lack of confidentiality within the health sector would hamper the national response, as such, more training is needed for health workers.”
According to Karishma “There have been awareness and trainings which have helped over time with the national response and further asked for support in protection for the community to achieve the 90-90-90 target”.
A leading Rights Activist in Liberia, AdamaDempster said Liberia does not have a specific document protecting the rights of KPs, but the country has signed different treaties that address Human Rights, specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but implementation is lacking.
“Until we have a specific advocacy policy with regards to the rights of the Key Population, we still have a long way to go. There is a need to fight for the basic rights and also report cases of violence subjected to Key Pops in Liberia and our efforts should be geared towards Advocacy Country”, Adama said.
He said “The constitution is clear on discrimination- it’s not a new phenomenon. Article 5-21 provide for a civil Liberty on Human Rights. The Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development pillar4 focuses on Human Rights through sustaining the peace of the country with several bullet points, we hope it is holistic”.
As a strategy to move forward, Adama urged that constructive engagement with key stakeholders and policy makers be taken into consideration for rights of Key Populations and vulnerable groups.
The National AIDS Control Program has been leading efforts in helping the National AIDS Commission with different responses, NACP Care and Treatment Coordinator, G Moses Jackson told the dialogue.
He disclosed that there are increased testing facilities, and the usage of a new effective drug for HIV called DTG that is currently being used in14 facilities for priority people.
“When there is adherence to the taking of the drug, the virus will be undetectable and un-transmittable transmittable (U=U), he said”.
According to him, though there are laboratory challenges, currently there are 17 GeneXpert machines in the country located in 17 sites with cartridges in the country, with more expected to boost the prevention of HIV.Editing by Jonathan Browne