4 March 2016

Sierra Leone: As Zero Discrimination Day Celebratedun Demands Robust Funding to Curb HIV

E Sesay — Country Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Micheal Gboun, yesterday stated that the world needs to increase HIV investment now or risk reversing major successes achieved in the first 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals.

"In 2015, an estimated USD 21.7 billion was invested in the AIDS response in low-and middle income countries. Investment need to increase, year on year from 2015, up to a peak of 40% higher in 2020, to reach the Fast-Track targets," he said.

He said adopting the fast-track focus on location and population and re-allocating resources to where they are most needed would ensure that people most affected by HIV are reached with life-changing HIV prevention and treatment services.

"Achieving all the Fast-Track targets on time would ensure that estimated total resource needs begins to fall by 2021. We must have a clear message of urgency to fast track the response and call on actors to take courageous decisions to rapidly scale up and front-load global and domestic investments and leverage private sector partnership opportunities," he reiterated.

UNAIDS, in collaboration with UN Women and partners in Sierra Leone, joined others across the world to celebrate zero discrimination day on March 1, with the theme 'standing out against discrimination.'

UN Women Country Representative to Sierra Leone, Dr. Mary Okumu, noted that "Discrimination is a violation of human rights; it is illegal, dehumanising and acts as a major barrier to development and access to HIV services. Stigma and discrimination, especially against women and girls, has to stop for the betterment of our future."

According to the UN Women country representative, discrimination remains widespread, while "gender, nationality, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion can all unfortunately be the basis for some form of discrimination."

"In sierra Leone, we have witnessed as diseases such as HIV and EVD have marginalised people and left them even more vulnerable within our societies. Other vulnerable segments of the population have also been discriminated against, such as women, disable people, and pregnant teenagers," she emphasised.

She noted that discrimination could happen anywhere - at healthcare facility, work, school, at home and in the community and that the act does not only hurts individual but it hurts everyone.

"Discrimination in healthcare settings also continues to be widely reported. Healthcare settings should be considered as safe and caring environments, however, such cases are happening too frequently in Sierra Leone," she said, adding that any obstacles that inhibit access to healthcare facilities must be removed and that access to health must be open to everyone.

She highlighted some of the strategies that could be used to counter discrimination and encourage acceptance.

"Standing out when something is wrong, raising awareness, supporting people who have been discriminated against and promoting the benefits of diversity can be used to counter discrimination by joining hearts and voices, individuals, communities and societies can transform the world," she said.

She said the zero discrimination day provides an opportunity to highlight how everyone can be part of the transformation and stand out for fair and just societies.

Dr. Okumu observed that the zero discrimination campaign was part of national efforts ahead of the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS (HLM) that would take place from 8-10 June, 2016.

"HLM201 represents the single most important milestone to secure political commitment for the action necessary over the next five years to enable ending the epidemic by 2030," she noted.

"The political declaration will re-affirm the global vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, in addition to reflecting the universal principles and guide global action, while recognizing that diverse HIV epidemics and contexts demand differentiated response based on local strategic information and priorities."

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said the organisation's fast track approach has a set of time-bound targets, including reducing the number of people newly infected with HIV from 2 million in 2014 to fewer than 500,000 in 2020, reducing the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes from 1.2million in 2014 to fewer than 500,000 in 2020 and eliminating HIV-related discrimination.

"Over the years we have a fragile window of opportunity to shift gear and put the global HIV response firmly on the Fast-Track to end the AIDS epidemic. This meeting will be critical to harnessing the momentum we have built and securing global commitment to break the epidemic," said the UNAIDS Executive Director.

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