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Sierra Leone News: …As Sierra Leone commemorates World Aids Day–President Bio challenges everyone to know their status

In his maiden speech to commemorate World Aids Day in Bo, President Julius Maada Bio has challenged everyone to know their status, and be safe. He encouraged everyone to become an activist and replicate the message that HIV/AIDS is real. HIV/AIDs he said is an existential threat to the nation as they struggle to harness its human capital and planning for national development. The President promised that his government will work to eradicate economic barriers to the accessing of HIV/AIDS testing and treatment services through fee exemptions for HIV/AIDS services in all government health facilities. “We are also working to increase budgetary allocations and address the recent shortfalls in the availability of antiretroviral drugs. We must expand our behaviour change campaign to include traditional leaders, cultural institutions, communities, socio groups , musicians, artists and interfaith groups to create awareness of HIV/AIDS testing services” he said. Each year HIV/AIDs continue to claim the lives of thousands of Sierra Leoneans, and as such the President said there is need to commend the courage, resilience and hope of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone and the world at large. “On this World Aids Day Sierra Leoneans are joining the world to focus on testing for and knowing one’s HIV status which gives power to take control over ones’ own health and wellbeing, Sierra Leone has therefore chosen the theme , ‘Know your HIV status, Rise, Test and be Safe’.” The healthy life and wellbeing of every Sierra Leonean matters and that for his New Direction government, President Bio said that human capital development involves implementing polices that enhance health and wellbeing of every Sierra Leonean. He promised to continue to work with international partners like the Global Fund against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria to consolidate gains and further fight against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone. According to statistics, almost 60% of the country is now covered with HIV testing services, an estimated 42% of the population have tested and know their status, 47% of those have been put on ARV and 27% of those are on treatment with at least one viral load test done to monitor impact treatment and care. President Bio said that his government is undertaking institutional and legal reforms that will bolster the fight against HIV/AIDs in the country. Citing that critical issues were excluded from the 2007 and 2011 laws, such as age of consent and that emerging vulnerable populations will be considered. He urged that everyone works towards eradicating stigma and discrimination both with respect to the country’s cultural and social attitude in communities and within the healthcare services towards HIV/AIDS. “We must also take another look at criminal laws that complicate the fears of certain vulnerable groups in accessing healthcare services or identifying themselves” he said. Resident Minister South reaffirmed government’s commitment to support the national response to HIV and AIDS in the country. That government has increased its allocation to HIV and AIDS is a manifestation of this fact. He encouraged school children to read more about HIV and AIDS so as to be well informed about the epidemic.  He noted that now that treatment is available and effective, people should voluntarily opt for testing. The minister himself took the HIV test during the WAD 2018 testing in Bo City. Minister of Health Alpha Wurie encouraged people to do the test as that is the gateway to an effective AIDS response in any country. He reiterated the fact that the treatment works magic as children born to HIV positive mothers are born free of the virus especially when the parents adhere to treatment. “HIV is no longer a death sentence but with ARVs there is hope that we can defeat HIV if only we go for the test and prevent our status. By 2030, people should no longer be scared of HIV and HIV should not be a public health problem in Sierra Leone” Minister Wurie said. The Deputy Bureau Chief of African Region for AHF Dr Patrick Wamae, congratulated Sierra Leone for her active participation in fighting the epidemic. He pledged the commitment of AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide support to the programme for as long as they exist. AHF-Sierra Leone is the only NGO in Sierra Leone working on HIV/AIDS with 100% national staff with all its programme fully funded by her parent body in Los Angles. They are in about 12 hospitals in the country including Panguma, Connaught Hospital, Waterloo Health Centre, Jenner-Wright Clinic, Makeni, Bo and Kenema. Nick Gardner who represented the UN Resident Representative in Sierra Leone reminded the gathering that as they celebrate we must note that there is a lot more work to do if we are to defeat the epidemic. He mentioned the death toll due to HIV and urges everyone to even act more. Deputy Mayor Smart from Bo City welcomed everyone and assured them that Bo is safe for any such activities especially that it involves providing healthcare for its people.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Thursday December 06, 2018.

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