Government & Stakeholders reviews laws and intensifies HIV and Aids Prevention and Control
The National Coalition of HIV/AIDS –Sierra Leone has climaxed the Global Aids Week of Action by deliberating on the Prevention and Control of HIV and AIDS Act 2007 at the Young Women Christian Association in Freetown. This law was passed in parliament on the 17th June 2007. Ever since it was enacted it has been under constant criticisms about some sections in the act that some members of the public and the International community.
The coalition sees this as an important issue, it wants to see a proper agreement between the HIV/AIDS Law and the public, it therefore staged this debate where people can point out areas they have problems with the Law and see how that could be amended.
During the debate, a question was asked about section 21 sub section C in the above mentioned law. This section talks about pregnant women who are HIV positive and passes on the infection to their babies. The act considers this as willful and the woman is liable to penalty or serious fine. This section aggravates some members of the public including the international community. They consider this discriminatory against women and also making them a target.
International human rights organizations have said that the law is not in conformity with the international human rights laws and it is gender insensitive. Other issues that are also of concern in the act during discussions are areas of confidentiality, testing of children, access to travel overseas, take part in peace keeping missions under the United Nations and employment.
Responding to some of the concerns raise in the debate, Mrs. Marie Benjamin said they are advocating strongly for HIV positives to have access to travel overseas without discrimination or intimidation. On the area of disallowing HIV positives not to take part in UN peace keeping missions, she said the act does not extend as far as that area. She also stated that the coalition will soon embark on a national consultative and sensitization campaign about the HIV law.
The communications coordinator at the National Aids Secretariat, Abu Bakarr Koroma, also said the government should put mechanisms in place to ensure that the educational and informational aspect of HIV/AIDS are enhanced, adding that HIV/AIDS should be included in the curriculum of educational institutions.
Koroma mentioned that there should also be a guide on the safe practices and procedures in the testing of donated tissue, testing of donated blood, guidelines on surgical and similar procedures.
He ended up by appealing that a provision should be included in the act that will punish those people who are deceiving the public that they can cure the disease.
With a thunderous chant of their slogan, One Week One Voice”, the coalition called on the general public to join hands so that the Act will go through parliament successfully.
The HIV and Aids campaign on control and preventions also targeted youths, adults in lorry parks, Market Places, colleges and universities by Stepping up the HIV/AIDS campaign which is one of the key activity in the several activities embarked on by the coalition to mark the Global Aids Week of Action (GAWA)
The coalition targeted youths and young adults in lorry parks, market places, colleges and universities in the country since these are some of the areas you can find lots of youths.
According to research conducted by the National Aids Secretariat, even though a lot of sensitization on HIV/AIDS has been done to combat the disease, yet it was discovered that the prevalence rate is still on a steady increase in the country.
Most of the infected people are youths and young adults which is why the Coalition sees this as an important issue and dedicates several days within the week to reach out to these people and encourage them to change their sexual behavior.
Youths and young adults are the human resource base of the country; therefore a fatal threat to their existence is a serious concern to the coalition. The country is still ranked bottom in the world according to the Human Development Index report published by UNDP in 2008.
During the campaign, a lot of youths and young adults confessed that they are aware that HIV/AIDS is real but they still engaged in casual or unproductive sex. These youths and young adults however came to believe that the disease is real and fatal when people living with the disease started giving testimonies about their status and how they contracted the disease.
This strategy employed by the coalition by involving those living with the disease, created serious impact in the minds of those youths and young adults who were before this time very stubborn in changing their sexual behavior.
One youth, Osman Turay said this after testimonies given by the PWHA’s; ‘my hair stand on end when for the first time listening to people admitting publicly that they have AIDS, it is unbelievable’. Osman appealed that the coalition should engage in this activity by bringing out the infected people to talk to people so that people can believe HIV/AIDS is real.
The PWHA’s encouraged the youths, young adults and the general public to do their HIV test as that will help them know their status. ‘Knowing your status can help you live long and productive life since you will start taking your treatment immediately but, without knowing that you are infected, you die sooner the disease overcomes the immune systems in your body’, one PLWH advised.
During one of the forums organized for students in colleges and universities, Dr. Sulaiman Conteh, the National Retroviral Treatment Coordinator said that as long as those infected are taking and responding to treatment, they can still live long and healthy lives. He warned student to stop deceiving themselves by not changing their sexual behavior, stressing that prevention is better than cure.
Despite the public proclamations and commitments made by our governments in Africa and the world over, yet the number of women, children, youth and adults died of HIV/AIDS, keep rising every year. Was revealed that AIDS continues to kill almost 6000 people each day and more than two out of three HIV positive people still lack access to treatment.
This solidarity is to send a message to government and the world that despite the commitments yet the numbers of HIV/AIDS deaths is rising alarmingly.