Commissioner of the National Commission for Children (NCC) Wednesday stated that despite strides made in combating HIV AIDS in the country and significant progress in accessing Anti-Retro Viral (ARTs), critical gaps still remain in the effort to better support and protect children affected by the disease.
Madam Olayinka Laggah was speaking at Hill Valley Hotel in Freetown during a meeting organised in collaboration with the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat (NAS) on the status of children in the national HIV response.
According to the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat, some 3,352 children from 0-14yrs were affected by the disease for 2017, constituting 4.9% of the overall number of HIV positives in the country.
Also, new infections for 2017 among children stands at 146, representing 2.8% with a total number of 203 deaths projected for this year.
In her statement, Madam Laggah said that although children orphaned by the deadly disease are vulnerable, very little is known about those found in such category.
"There is no need to emphasise that HIV/AIDS profoundly affect children at many levels. A child's family can be hard struck by the effects of AIDS as parents get sick and are not able to work, protect and provide for their children. The results of this can disrupt children's lives and put their health, education and protection at risk," she said.
She said one of the most devastating impacts of HIV is the loss of both parents, and that it is often children who feel the greatest impact.
Madam Laggah noted that the inclusion of sex and HIV/AIDS education for young children could be vital to tackling the stigma surrounding HIV, and to teach others facts about HIV transmission.
She called for policies and practices in response to issues to address all forms of discrimination, and that strategies should also promote education and training programmes explicitly designed to change attitudes of discrimination and stigmatisation associated with the disease.
Representing NAS, Dilys Davies-Thompson reiterated the mandate of the secretariat, which is to co-ordinator the national response of HIV/AIDS in the country.
She stressed the need for partnership and collaboration to ensure that activities rolled out are implemented successfully, adding, "We cannot achieve things without resources, especially human resource."
Madam Davies-Thompson assured the children's commission of their determination and commitment to continued collaborationg at all times.
Also speaking, Idrissa Songo from the Network of HIV Positives in Sierra Leone (NETHIPS), described the initiative for children as a turning point because they have been the missing link.
"Children face double stigma. Stigma is the greatest barrier to the response, especially for children. There is a lack of a comprehensive data of children living with the virus," he said.