The country representative of the UN children’s find in Sierra Leone, Geert Cappalaere has said that in 2006, there was an estimated 5,200 children living with HIV in Sierra Leone, with 1,900 in need of antiretroviral treatment.
Speaking yesterday at a two-day training workshop for journalists, Mr Cappalaere said about 90% of children infected with HIV acquired it through the mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or through breast-feeding.
The UNICEF boss maintained that without treatment, 30% of infected children would die by their first birthday, 50% at age two years and 60% at age five years.
He revealed that in 2005, 700,000 children were infected with the virus and 570,000 died of AIDS-related illnesses around the world.
The Director of the National AIDS Secretariat, Dr Brima Kargbo said the first case of HIV was reported in 1987 and since then the epidemic had been spreading. He said that although HIV prevalence stood at 1. 53% in the country, factors that contribute to the escalation of the pandemic abound.
Dr Kargbo emphasized that behaviors such as the low use of condom among young people; harmful cultural and sexual practices, religious beliefs and drug abuse were contributing factors for the pandemic.
Dr Kargbo disclosed that in 2005 a Behaviour Surveillance Survey (BSS) was conducted by Statistics Sierra Leone in partneship with his organisation and UNICEF which showed that over 72% of adolescents had had sex and that only 4.3% used condom during their first intercourse.
In his keynote address, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Professor Septimus Kaikai said the aim of the workshop was to involve journalists and the media to contribute positively to the fight against HIV/AIDS which is becoming a national emergency particularly among children, mothers, youths and adolescents.
He said out of 100 HIV positive pregnant women, 30-40 children will be infected by the virus without interventions.
He said the chances could be reduced if the woman delivered in a health facility and received special treatment during labour while the baby’s chances would be reduced if it started receiving treatment soon after birth.
Prof Kaikai therefore called on journalists to play a pivotal role in disseminating accurate and appropriate information to the public about the virus.
Journalists are being training to influence policy makers, opinion leaders and other stakeholders to bring children and mothers on board their HIV/AIDS intervention.
The ceremony which occasioned at the Youyi Building in Freetown, brought together journalists from both the print and electronic media.