By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
Liberia is reporting an alarming estimation of 711 HIV infected men who have had sex with other men (homosexuals) while about 33 of those men are legally married amidst the gains made in reducing HIV and AIDS in the country. Among the three key population groups targeted in the estimation study released three years ago which include female sex workers estimated at 1, 822 and injecting drug users are 457 aged 15-19, the report states that of the number of gays infected in Liberia, 4.7 %were legally married men making a total of HIV prevalence in gays to stand at 19. 8%, female sex workers are 9 % and among injected drug users and uniform services personnel are at 5 %.
The 2011 Size Estimation Study of Female Sex Worker, Men having sex with men and injecting drug users revealed that due to the hidden and stigmatized nature of homosexuality in Liberia the data collected might be underestimated as it reports 80 percent of gays who are between ages 20-34 while 24.5 percent have reported of ever being threatened by the police.
The data was released by the National AIDS Commission (NAC) yesterday when it held programs marking the observance of World AIDS Day in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the United Nations Theme Group on HIV, the Global Fund and partners under the theme, “Addressing the impact of Ebola on the National HIV Response.”
The Chairperson of NAC, Ivan Camanor, said gaps must be closed to achieve zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths as such more people living with HIV must be placed on treatment while HIV infection must be prevented in infants.
He said it is a tragic that more than 3, 000 persons living with HIV have died because of the Ebola virus and that is the head count of people who have died due to Ebola wondering more about those who have died of AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Dr. Camanor said observance of this year’s World AIDS Day marked renewed efforts to revive the National HIV Response so that people living with HIV could have access to counseling, testing and treatment which he considered should now be a national challenge.
In her keynote address, the Minister-designate of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Julia Duncan Cassell began by reminding stakeholders about the importance of also celebrating the significant reduction in the number of new HIV cases globally since 2001.
The Minister-designate Cassell admitted that there are critical gaps in the national AIDS responsethat was revealed in the NAC study conducted which needs to be addressed if the global target of ending AIDS by 2030 is achieved in Liberia.
She added that although the prevalence remains stable at 1.9 percent, there are significant disparities between urban and rural dwellers and between counties while the UNAIDS Country Director, BetruWoldesemayat noted that it is only by closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support service with people who are being left behind that the AIDS epidemic will end in 2030.
He said closing the gap means empowering and enabling all people, everywhere, to access the services they need and that is possible when the HIV testing, the location, the education and funding gaps are addressed globally for people living with HIV.
Meanwhile, in a special message from the Secretary General of the United Nations, read during the program, he said there are 35 million people living with AIDS globally and world leaders have committed themselves to ending the epidemic by 2030 noting that this can only be achieved when the approach is fast tracked.
He said in Africa, it is no secret that the legacy of AIDS response is already apparent in confronting Ebola and that the medical systems are not enough to provide robust healthcare and that social justice, decentralization of science, shared responsibility for financing, human rights and gender equity and people-centered approach to health are all lessons learnt in the AIDS response that are being applied already and discussed on the UN post-2015 development agenda.