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Page added on September 16, 2012
The National HIV/AIDS Secretariat and UNFPA in collaboration with Inter-Religious Council Sierra Leone on Thursday 13th September, 2012 officially launched Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Aids Network (SLIRAN) and inaugurated members of the Sierra Leone Inter-Religious AIDS Network (SLIRAN) eastern region at the District Council Hall, Nyandeyama road, Kenema.
In his opening remarks the chairman of the program, who is also the program manager of ENCISS, Mr. Sahr Yambasu said that religious leaders have a very important role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone and if the religious leaders come on board in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the fight will be very easy to carry out because religious leaders have the biggest constituency in Sierra Leone and if the message is disseminated by them it will be more effective than the ordinary people or politicians.
In his overview the regional coordinator of NAS east Mohamed M. B Sisay said HIV was identified in 1987 and 1987–2001 National Response driven by MOHS and a multi-sector response strategy was adopted in 2002 – all stakeholders involved, he said the vision is towards zero new HIV infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths in Sierra Leone. and that the situation of HIV in Sierra Leone is Prevalence still stands and stabilized at 1.5%, Female 1,7%, male 1.2%, Adolescent girls 1.4%, boys 0.5%, Urban 2.5%, Rural 1%, Prevalence among pregnant women attending ANC is 3.2%, 48,000 people infected, 4,000 are children and Epidemic is mixed, generalized and heterogeneous affecting different population subgroups. He went on to say that HIV/AIDS Statistics Regional Response in 2008 DHS conducted by MOHS indicated a national HIV prevalence of 1.5% and HIV Prevalence among women was 1.7% and for males it was 1.2%.
Sisay reiterated that Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) being an entry point to HIV prevention is one of the priority areas of intervention by Government to minimize the epidemics of which a total of 157 testing sites have been established (72 in Kenema, 40 in Kailahun and 45 in Kono) which include both private and public institutions, he added that the number of people going for HIV testing has drastically increased over the years, high uptake of condoms in the region, and staff capacity has been significantly strengthened through the employment of more qualified staff and training workshops for all staff implementing VCT services.
He said that the number of facilities providing PMTCT services reached 155. (70 in Kenema, 45 in Kono and 40 in Kailahun), this constitutes medication, education, food, and financial support to orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and people living with HIV (PLHIV). 28 centres have been established to offer highly active Antihero Viral Treatment to HIV positive clients (8 in Kenema, 11 in Kono and 8 in Kailahun) and 5 Care and Support Groups are offering various forms of support to positive HIV patients and OVCs; 3 0f which are in Kenema (HACSA, LIWITH, and CECSHIP), 1 in Kailahun (CCSL) and 1 in Kono (Porshe.)
The regional coordinator added that the Regional blood bank, under the Ministry of Health and Sanitation with strong technical support from IRC and Red Cross Society, coordinates the blood safety programme in the Region. Currently, 6 blood bank centres exist in different parts of the region (3 Kenema, 2 Kailahun and 1 Kono. Coordination of partners and various stakeholders on HIV/AIDS issues is in full gear now, currently popularizing 8 Key Pillar documents to DACs, CACs, Youths and Women on the zero new infections funding provided by ENCISS, Procure audio visual equipments for former refugees and host communities funding provided by UNHCR Regional office member of Partnership Forums on the AIDS Response on.
Sisay said that their challenge is sustainability of the AIDS response as 95% is donor funded. Lack of in-country AIDS Resource Basket, Sincerity of Implementing Partners, Stigma and Discrimination directed at PLHIVs Slow transformation of IEC into Behavioural Change, Translating knowledge into behavior change among general and key populations myths & misconception about HIV vis-a-vis stigma and discrimination, consistent and correct use of condoms, early sexual debut among the youth, multiple concurrent sexual partners among adults, alcohol & substance abuse, low ART coverage, low PMTCT utilisation, inadequate care and support, interventions to MARPs and Mapping of stakeholders and services .
He said that the way forward is the prevention Decentralized National Response through LC Structures, World of Work Interventions, Partnerships, Intensification of Supervision Exercises, Develop & present concept note to partners for support, Popularize the NAC Act, Prevention Strategy & BCC & Advocacy Strategy and the Update EMTCT Strategy & scale-up services in major district hospitals.
Sisay concluded that the aspiration of the NAS national goal towards zero new HIV infections by 2015 and HIV/AIDS programme continues to demonstrate positive impact on the people in the east and Sierra Leone as a whole. He called on the religious leaders to rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them as duty demands it, lift up the fallen, tell your congregation that HIV/AIDS is real and patiently win them.
In his key note address and official launching of SLIRAN, the minister of state east hon. Williams Juana Smith said he is pleased to see NAS and UNFPA bringing together religious leaders in the region in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country, which he said is a clear manifestation of the importance of religious tolerance and involvement of religious stake holders in taking ownership on issues affecting them and their congregation in order to mould their live for the good of the society and as government they pledge and give their full support in such direction.
The minister said that he is so glad for the space created at the launching and to see the dire need for religious leaders to play a vital role in the national AIDS response if they are to achieve the zero new HIV infections by 2015, a goal the government of Sierra Leone has pledged to respond and to and committed with support from their development partners. He that the participation of religious leaders in the response to HIV/AIDS is particularly important because most of the stigma currently attached to the virus is a result of commonly dispensed religious messages, because in most people minds the virus is tied to behavior that is religiously condemned, masques and churches tend to point a finger at people with HIV, instead of adopting a caring and compassionate response.
W J Smith reiterated that religious leaders are essential actors in a successful response to HIV/AIDS in the country which is because they contribute to the shaping of social valves and norms which are critical to end stigma and discrimination related to the epidemic.
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