The Deputy Permanent Secretary for Administration and Finance at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Bulli Dibba, on Saturday presided over the commemoration of World Aids Day at the Kanifing MunicipalCouncil grounds. The theme selected for this year's campaign is 'Getting to zero'
Speaking on the occasion, Dibba said in The Gambia, the National Aids Secretariat and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare continue to spearhead the HIV and AIDS national response in partnership with other stakeholders like Action Aid, noting that government will remain committed to the creation of an enabling environment through concrete actions and policy engagement with a view to strengthening the gains made in the national response to HIV and AIDS in The Gambia.
The National response, he informed, continues to make tremendous strides to curb the HIV and AIDSepidemic as a major developmental challenge. He revealed that the HIV prevalence remains relatively low, 1.6%,according to the 2011 sentinel surveillance results, noting that the estimated number of people living with HIV is projected at 28,268 and currently 3,349 are on treatment.
Dibba went on to indicate that the national strategic framework (2009-2014) of the Gambia aims to provide the highest standard of available prevention, treatment, care and support to the people living with HIV and AIDS. Hehowever noted that the national response is undermined to a large extent by HIV-related stigma and discrimination, "consequently the government recognises the need to tackle this major challenge by developing a national strategy to reduce HIV related stigma and discrimination," he concluded.
Delivering the statement of the WHO regional director for Africa on the day, Momodou Gassama, Health Promotion officer - WHO Gambia office - pointed out that there are more than 2 million people living with HIV in sub- Saharan Africa and over half of them are women and over 75% of women and 85% of Children living with HIV worldwide are in the African region. He further stressed that in the African region HIV/AIDS has claimed so many lives and largely contributed to a reduction of life expectancy with grave social and economic consequences.
Gassama suggested that the prevention of HIV must be scaled up and broadened in all countries to include health promotion behavior change counselling. The interventions, he opined, will scale up the control of HIV/AIDS and contribute to meeting the new targets set by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on AIDS to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV by half, eliminate new infectionsinchildren , provide treatment for 15 millions of people living with HIV. He called on health care workers at all levels to use every opportunity to counsel people and encourage them to be tested.
For his part, the director of the National AIDS Secretariat Ousman Badjie saidthe World AIDS Day is an opportunity for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV and AIDSprevention, treatment and care in high prevalent countries and around the world.
Fatima Gai, president of Gambia Network of AIDS Support Societies (GAMNASS) said that stigma and discrimination affect access to services and it is a violation of human rights She thanked the government of The Gambia, Global Fund and the United Nation system for theirsupport to towards people living with HIV and AIDS.