President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has charged the Board of Directors of the National AIDS Commission to ensure, as a collective responsibility and commitment, the halt of the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country by 2015.
“We can start by ensuring that no child is born with HIV in our country,” she said, noting that given the low HIV prevalence rate in the country, we can and must work together to eliminate mother-to-child transmission as part of the country’s national efforts aimed at reducing maternal and child mortality.
President Sirleaf, who chairs the Board of Directors of the National AIDS Commission, made the assertion at the C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium when the Board held its first meeting since its reconstitution.
Over time, the National AIDS Commission has intensified activities to strengthen the national response to HIV/AIDS. The Commission has featured a number of innovative strategic programs to prevent and control the spread of the virus, including increasing access to services and protecting the rights of people living with HIV as well as other vulnerable populations.
The Chair formally introduced the new Commissioners of the National AIDS Commission and their specific responsibilities. They included: Dr. Ivan Camanor, Chairman; Mrs. Jessie Duncan, Commissioner for Decentralization and County Support; Dr. Stephen Kennedy, Commissioner for Program and Policy; Mrs. Juanita Ramirez, Commissioner for Partnerships; and Mr. Wissedi Sio Njoh, Commissioner for Strategic Information Management. The Commission was reconstituted based on the strong advocacy of the United Nations country team on HIV/AIDS and bilateral partners urging Government to take the lead in its establishment.
President Sirleaf thanked the various partners – the Global Fund, development partners, non-governmental organizations, civil society and relevant Liberian agencies – for the continuous support provided the National AIDS Commission.
The new UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr. Betru Tekle Woldesemayat, thanked the Commission for the commitment under President Sirleaf’s leadership. “I would like to appreciate the leadership for their profound commitment at reducing women and girls’ vulnerability to HIV at the national and global level,” he said.
The Director of the International Labour Organization Country Office for Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Gambia, Ms. Sina Chuma Mkandawire, and the new Goodwill Ambassador on Maternal and Newborn Mortality, Ms. Miatta Fahnbulleh, also made remarks.
On the Commission’s agenda was the urgent need to mobilize resources to ensure an effective national response to HIV/AIDS and to strengthen its capacity. Although the budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 is put at US$2.6 million, with Government providing US$816,000 and other partners providing US$561,500, there is still a budget gap of nearly US$1.3 million. UNICEF has committed to give the Commission US$100,000.
“For our part, the Government has made an allocation in our fiscal year 2012/2013 budget, but given the numerous national challenges, this amount confirms Government’s strong commitment towards achieving the goals and objectives in our national response to HIV/AIDS,” President Sirleaf told the meeting.
Commissioner Jessie Duncan presented Liberia’s 2012 UN General Assembly Special Session Report to the Chairperson of the UN Theme Group on AIDS, UNICEF’s Country Representative, Ms. Isabel Crowley. Liberia and other Member States biennially submit a report to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) on their national responses. Presently there are 30 indicators.
Earlier, Commissioner Ramirez, providing an update of prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Liberia, put the estimate at 1.5 percent, with 2.5 in urban areas and 0.8 percent in rural areas. In Monrovia, the prevalence rate is put at 2.9 percent. According to Commissioner Ramirez, current statistics show that there are 33,671 people living with HIV and that 60 percent are female. She pointed out that there are 1,325 new infections in Liberia; that 10,757 individuals are in need of anti-retroviral drugs; and that in 2011, there were only 6,592 persons on anti-retroviral drugs.
Citing some of the causes of HIV/AIDS in Liberia, Commissioner Ramirez named the impact of poverty, limited access to social services and income, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual and gender-based violence, social and cultural practices that foster gender inequality, low decision-making among women and girls, increased mobility of the population, as well as a high level of informal multiple and concurrent partners.
She named the five key areas in a National Action Strategic Framework that will be tackled by the Commission, including coordination and management of decentralization, infection, prevention and promotion of behavioral change, treatment, care and support, strategic information management and policy and an enabling environment.