Every year, World AIDS Day is commemorated on the 1st December as an occasion for people to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show our generosity and compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS and remember those who have passed away from this deadly scourge.
This year, the United Nations’ theme for the commemoration of World AIDS Day is “My health, my right”. This theme underscores the right of everyone to the prevention and treatment of ill health, to make a decision about one’s own health and to be treated with respect and dignity. The right to health for people living with HIV/AIDS and those who are at risk should also mean that they have access to adequate care, treatment and support to help them survive and thrive.
UNAIDS estimates that in 2016 there were 67,000 (43,000 – 100,000) people living with HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone. People living with HIV/AIDS who know their HIV status were 24,000 (35%) and people living with HIV/AIDS who are on treatment were 18,000 (26%). The key populations most affected by HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone are Sex workers with an HIV prevalence of 8.5%; Gay men and other men who have sex with men with an HIV prevalence of 14%; People who inject drugs with an HIV prevalence of 8.5% and Prisoners with an HIV prevalence of 2.2%. Sadly, women, children and young people who are most vulnerable often bear the heaviest burden.
Since 2010, new HIV infections have increased by 7% and AIDS-related deaths have increased by 6%. As we commemorate this day, let us remind ourselves that each person must take responsibility for knowing their HIV/AIDS status and making sure that others who may be affected know their status. Also, as we all hope for more research into newer and better treatments that can protect and prolong lives, let us all continue to overturn the myths and misconceptions that promote the transmission of the virus.
Additionally, increasing awareness and a greater understanding of the disease as a public health issue; prevention; early detection; combating stigmatization, eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; resource mobilization; promoting HIV testing; strong focus on key populations and access to anti-retroviral treatment are essential to ending HIV/AIDS.
On this day, we must also salute the vital contributions of all those involved in the fight against the AIDS epidemic including nurses, doctors, National AIDS Secretariat, donor partners, Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations. Under my tenure as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone after the Elections of March 2018, I will commit myself to work with all stakeholders for us to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target by 2020. This means that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio
Presidential Candidate of the SLPP for the 2018 Elections