Liberia: 39,000 People Living with HIV – As Prevalence in Pregnant Women Alarming

June 24, 2019-Liberia: Amid efforts by both local and international partners in the fight to end HIV and AIDS, there seems to be scaring figures to the infection and positive cases around Liberia.

The National AIDS Commission (NAC) recently released a 2019 report with alarming statistics of over 39,000 people currently living with HIV in Liberia which constitutes 2.1% of the overall population.

Though a 2016 report indicated that 37,000 persons were living with the virus, the current statistics indicate a huge rise in the number.

According to the Chair of the NAC, Madam Theodosia Kolee, of the aggregated number of 39,000 people living with the virus, women account 2.4% which is 22,000 and 1.8 among men amounting to 14,000 and 3,000children respectively.

She spoke at programs marking the launch of She’s You Movement, a flagship program of the First Lady Clar Marie Weah. The program was also intended to raise awareness on HIV testing and treatment with an encouragement to join the national fight in ending the epidemic.

She mentioned that though Liberia is amongst one of the few countries in Africa that have made significant progress in scaling up the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) coverage to over 90%, yearly, there are 1900 pregnant women in need of anti-retroviral therapy and 1827 receiving Anti-Retroviral Drugs.

Madam Kolee revealed that the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women is currently 2.4% which was contained in an Anti-natal survey. “There are 433 facilities offering PMTCT services across Liberia, 4862 pregnant women were tested for HIV and 539 were tested positive, while 457 are currently on treatment.

She furthered that there is a drastic drop in Mother to child’s transmission owing to the resumption of early infant diagnosis to determine the HIV status of infants exposed to HIV. “In 2018, a total of 2406 infants born of HIV positive mothers underwent testing and 11 which account for 4.5% were tested positive and 235 samples declared negative.”

Madam Kolee indicated that despite gains in achieving an AIDS-free society, the lack of adequate funding to expand the PMTCT program to all facilities across Liberia and Stigma and Discrimination are major barriers to the HIV program in the country. “The PMTCT program continues to face numerous challenges including lack of support from sexual partners of most women, lack of adequate supply of cartridges, sample of collection and sample structure for early infant diagnosis,”

She noted that the national response to HIV requires a strong political will from Leaders if the global targets of ending the epidemic as a public threat at 2030.

The NAC boss urged everyone to join the fight against HIV and AIDS and reducing new infection and its spread increase community participation and engagement to further reduce stigma and discrimination among persons living with HIV. “Liberia’s response to HIV and AIDS requires a strong political will from our leaders especially our president Dr. George Manneh Weah if we are to achieve the global target of ending this epidemic as a public threat in 2030.”

Also speaking UNAIDS Country Director, Miriam Chimpinmo, mentioned that by the end of 2018 a significant number of countries in central and western Africa had achieved coverage of over 70% of pregnant women being tested for HIV and receiving Anti-retroviral to reduce the HIV viral load and transmission to unborn child.

Dr. Chimpinmo said though efforts have been made with the test of pregnant women in the region, more follow-ups are needed for infants exposed to HIV infected mothers. “Less than 10% of infants born to HIV positive mothers in Africa are tested for HIV, east and southern Africa has achieved 90% of coverage. This means if a child is infected with HIV and not tested, he or she will not have access to life-saving treatment, which will progress to AIDS and are likely to die.”

In Liberia today, only 4% of infants exposed to HIV through their mothers are tested for HIV and very few are on treatment. According to the UNAIDS, currently, in the world, there are 2.1M children living with HIV, of whom 1.4M are in Africa, 40% of these children do not have access to treatment and mortality is high with half of them dying before the age of three (3) years.

“UNAIDS in partnership with the Organization of Africa’s First Ladies for Development and the AU is committed to actively support National campaigns aimed to raise awareness and mobilize concrete actions of national stakeholders within the regulator of the national PMTCT program,” Dr. Chimpinmo indicated.

UNAIDS boss commended the First Lady Clar Marie Weah for the She’s You movement and pledged UNAIDS fullest support in attaining the universal goal of ending HIV by 2030. “We look forward to supporting the various community structures that will help bring about the change in behavior to reduce stigma and discrimination related to HIV, which remains a big challenge for women to disclose their HIV status, access care and support.”

UNAIDS supports the ‘Free to Shine’ campaign which was adopted by the African Union members countries draws attention to HIV prevention among women of reproductive age and improvement of services such as family planning, ante-natal care, delivery and post-delivery care.

Liberia’s commitment is also to achieve the universally desired goal of “Zero New HIV Infection, Zero AIDS-related Deaths, and Zero Discrimination by 2020 remains unclear the country is at 35% of the first 90 targets of testing while the rest of the two 90% remains a major challenge. Earlier in the DHMSS 2013 report HIV response showed that a total of 37,000 persons were reported living with the virus, mainly consisting of a marginalized group, traders, and uniform personnel among others.

Liberia adopted a 5 year National Strategic Plan (NSP) 2015-2020 expressing commitment to achieve the universally desired goal of “Zero New HIV Infection, Zero AIDS-related Deaths, and Zero Discrimination.

The NSP 2015-2020 developed in 2014 replaces the National Strategic Framework 2010-2015 and provides a more ambitious action plan and targets. It is intended to create an AIDS-free society Goal of the NSP; to stop new HIV infections and keep people living with HIV alive and healthy in Liberia Aim of the NSP.

The NSP also aims to provide a result-based framework for driving the decentralized, multi-sectoral national HIV and AIDS response within which all HIV and AIDS.

To date HIV prevalence in urban areas is put at 2.6 percent (3.2% in Monrovia) and is much higher than in rural areas at 0.8 percent; and HIV prevalence among women 2.4% (increased from 1.8%) is significantly higher than in men 1.9% (increased from 1.2% in 2007).

Currently, there are huge drug stuck out at several facilities in the country where services are provided for PLHIV’s to which Civil Society Organizations have alarmed recently that these challenges will slower the country’s ability to meet its 2020 target.

They mentioned at the celebration of World AIDS Day that PLHIV’s have lost confidence in the system which is currently a risk to the treatment and new infection chain in the country.

CSOs also recommended an investigation by authorities of the Ministry of Health and Internal affairs over the alarming rate of herbalists that were undermining the fight against the virus where PLHIV’s were leaving facilities to herbalist for treatment.

In the Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS) 2013 report on Liberia’s HIV Prevalence showed 2.1% of the country’s population affected which was high among Men having Sex with Men (MSM) (19.8%).

They are closely followed by Female Sex Worker (FSW) (9.8%) and Uniform services personnel (5.0%). Youth in school had the lowest HIV prevalence (1.1%) with no significant difference between male (1.3%) and female (1.0%). Similar trend was observed among out of school youth (OSY) with the prevalence being 1.9% and no significant difference between male (2.3%) and female was dramatically (1.4%). Injecting drug users (IDUs) was predominantly male occupational group with the HIV prevalence of 3.9%, whereas Miners recorded a prevalence of 3.8%. Among Transport workers and Mobile traders, a considerably high prevalence of 4.8% and 4.5% was recorded.

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