In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of a three-day national children’s conference at the Miatta conference hall in Freetown, Vice President Sam Sumana disclosed that in 2002 about 1% of Sierra Leoneans were living with HIV.
Now, he said, “1.5 % of our compatriots have acquired the virus”.
The Veep stated that that result was from the 2006 antenatal sentinel surveillance study carried out by the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS), which showed that pregnant women at antenatal clinic had twice as much HIV infection (3%) than the national population.
This, the Vice President said, “constitutes an increased risk to children contracting HIV…this is unaccepted to government”.
The Veep, who was addressing ministers, members of parliament, traditional leaders, development partners, school children and journalists said HIV/AIDS had become a popular word in Sierra Leone.
He added that, “I deem it a singular honour to be part of this very important ceremony to mark the beginning of deliberations towards the design of strategies to combat HIV/AIDS among children in our national response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic”.
Vice President Sam Sumana noted further that, “government places high hopes on partnership to address HIV/AIDS”, adding that HIV/AIDS was one of the priorities of the government.
He stressed that the administration would live up to the commitments towards realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions on HIV/AIDS.
“We need to tackle HIV/AIDS headlong more than ever before in order to save the nation from calamities that are now befalling other countries in the sub region,” said Salone’s No two.
Mr Sumana, who declared the conference opened, disclosed that, “the urgent need to design new and more purposeful strategies capable of breaking all the barriers and thereby accelerates a nation’s response to the virus”.
He emphasized that prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission remained one of government’s most important priorities, in this regard, key interventions in our current National Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS 2006-2010 would be pursued with vigour.
The president of Children’s Forum Network (CFN), Bamine C. Boye, said “unite for children, unite against AIDS is a call by children which needs collective effort, the children of Sierra Leone have been for the past years infected and affected by HIV/AIDS to which lip services have been paid”.
He added that it was necessary to mention that about 5,200 children were infected and affected by the virus of which only few were having adequate treatment.
This, he noted, was as a result of the fact that access and uptake of services for children and their parents remained low.
In her opening statement, the minister of social welfare gender and children’s affairs, Haja Musu Kandeh, pointed out that children and HIV/AIDS were top of the government’s agenda, and that the disease had became a lead in “orphanhood”.
She maintained that, “we are all aware that HIV/AIDS has been with us for over 20 years and still growing”.
According to the minister of health and sanitation, Dr Saccoh Kabia, the fight against the disease was very critical, adding that the effect that HIV/AIDS had on the country’s economy was another story.