- NAC Boss discloses, as she rallies Liberians to stop inequalities
By. Leila B. Gbati
The National AIDS Commission (NAC) has disclosed that there is no way Liberia can end AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat while stigma and discrimination remain major roadblocks.According to the NAC, stigma and discrimination should be brought under control through collective efforts.
Speaking to reporters in Monrovia on Monday, November 28, 2022, at a press conference on activities marking the 2022 World AIDS Day commemoration in Liberia, the Chairperson of NAC, Theodosia S. Kolee, said Liberia joins the rest of the world every year on December 1 to commemorate World AIDS Day, which was set aside by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) in 1988 to provide an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and remember those who have died of AIDS-related complications.
Madam Kolee disclosed that this year’s World AIDS Day will be commemorated under the global theme “Equalize” and the national theme “End Inequalities; End HIV in Liberia.”
She emphasized that there is no way Liberians can end AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat while stigma and discrimination remain major roadblocks and are not brought under control, which requires collective effort. The NAC boss added that inequalities that perpetuate the AIDS pandemic are not inevitable, and Liberians can tackle them by joining UNAIDS in urging everyone to address inequalities that are holding back progress in ending AIDS.
Madam Kolee further stated that the slogan “Equalize” is a call to action and a wake-up call for everyone to work for the proven practical actions needed to address inequalities and help end AIDS.
In observance of this year’s World AIDS Day, Madam Kolee called on policymakers, state actors, and partners to take bold, deliberate, and strong political actions if they must end AIDS by 2030. She mentioned that the following actions would increase the availability, quality, and suitability of services for HIV treatment, testing, and prevention: Reform laws, policies, and practices to tackle stigma and exclusion faced by people living with HIV in key and marginalized populations, allow communities to make use of and adapt the “Equalize” message to highlight the particular inequalities they face and to press for the actions needed to address them, no new HIV-related discriminatory laws, regulations, or policies should be passed. Repeal all existing HIV-related discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies on the books. Ensure that 90% of people living with HIV and members of the key population have access to justice, challenge rights violations, and no one should be denied health services based on perceived or positive HIV status or sexual identity if Liberia must end AIDS by 2030.
However, giving analysis on the HIV situation, Madam Kolee revealed 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 34,000, HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas (2.6%) than in rural areas (0.8%). She noted that the South-Central Region has the highest prevalence of 2.8% among the five regions, whereas Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa counties have the highest HIV prevalence among the 15 counties and account for about 70% of the burden of disease in the country. She said the annual death rate as a result of AIDS-related complications in Liberia is put at 900, while 1,000 persons get infected with HIV every year. Amidst this, the response to HIV is further being challenged by the 2018 Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS), which indicates a high HIV prevalence among key and vulnerable populations in the country, and the report shows that men who sex with men account for 37.9% of HIV prevalence, 9.6% for People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs), 14.4% for transport workers, and 16.7% for female sex workers.Furthermore, Madam Kolee stressed that this unprecedented rise in HIV prevalence among these key groups of people calls for rigorous effort and collaboration from all sectors of the country to ensure that no one is left behind in responding to this health problem.
She highlighted that as part of the global community, Liberia only has eight years left before the 2030 goal of ending AIDS as a global health threat, adding that “economic, social, cultural, and legal inequalities that undermine our efforts must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
“In a pandemic, inequalities intensify the dangers for everyone; the end of AIDS can only be achieved if we tackle the inequalities that drive it.” The NAC boss further called on policymakers, state actors, and every Liberian to act now and do all they can to help tackle inequalities by changing their attitudes toward people infected with and affected by HIV, especially key and vulnerable populations.
“In order to translate commitments into measurable policy change and programmatic interventions that result in the enjoyment of HIV-related rights by all in accordance with goal one of the NSP, Liberia needs to: 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.”
The NAC Chairperson stated that for this year’s World AIDS Day, they have planned the following activities: a roundtable dialogue on the reduction of stigma and discrimination in ensuring zero new HIV-related discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies exist; the launch of the US $1 million rally to raise domestic funding to address the gap identified in the National Strategic Plan.Concluding, she said as the world aims to end HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, Liberia cannot afford to be left behind.
Therefore, it is an opportunity to begin highlighting some, if not all, issues pivotal to this realization, which will help ensure that we have a Liberia where all people, regardless of their sexual identity, sexual orientation, health status, and life choices, are welcome. She called for combined efforts to ensure access to relevant HIV prevention services, voluntary HIV counseling and testing, affordable treatment, and high-quality care and support services for people living with HIV, as well as key and vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, she thanked the National AIDS and STIs Control Program, the Liberia Network of Persons Living with HIV, the LIPRIDE Coalition, UN partners, and other international partners for building a strong partnership over the years to address the HIV and AIDS situation in Liberia.