Children all over the south (Pujehun , Mattru Jong, Bonthe) gathered yesterday in Bo for a two-day (16-17 July) consultative conference to focus on the prevention and control of HIV among children.
The two-day consultative workshop with the theme “Unite for Children” Unite Against AIDS” is a forgleam to a national workshop expected to be held in October were all children in the country will participate.
During the opening ceremony which was chaired by the Bonthe Mayor, Micheal Garick in Friendship hall Bo, the United Nations Country Team representative who is also the UNICEF Program communication Officer for HIV&AIDS said that they are supporting the government of Sierra Leone to fight the scorching menace that is making inroads in our society.
He related that in Botswana they started off with a 1.5% sero prevalence rate 10 years ago but now they have been overwhelmed by the virus as 4 out of any random 10 Botswana national is HIV positive.
Mr Jalloh stated that UNICEF, other UN agencies and other key stakeholders have decided to focus on children because when they did a survey in 2005 they discovered that 35,000 of the 43,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS are between 15-24 years of age.
He also pointed out that the same survey discovered that 32% of adolescent (12-17) have involved themselves in sex.
The UNICEF Programs communication Officer advised the children to abstain from sex or if they could not resist the urge use condom.
He pledged that the UN theme group on AIDS is fully committed to the fight against AIDS especially against children.
On behalf of NGOs, Aminata B. Bangura from RADA attributed the spread of AIDS among children to not only the mother to child transmission but also to the residues of child trafficking, poor medical attention for pregnant infected women, and poor standards of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs).
She explained that coalitions of NGOs which her institution is part of have been working in provincial towns and villages in the south to fight the scourge of AIDS.
Aminata said that they are focusing also an advocacy and sensitization.
As the primary contact of the AIDS virus to children is by mother to child through birth, the NGO representative suggested that the National AIDS Secretariat should make available AIDS testing facilities in rural communities as many people in those communities do not know their status and as a result the Virus will continue to spread.
Alfred P.J. Sandy, the President of Children’s Forum Network relayed that in Sierra Leone many children have the virus or have their mothers or fathers living with HIV.
He pointed out that in 2006 alone, 493 pregnant women infected with the virus were identified through their routine clinic visits, which means that they have given birth to more than 400 babies who may have got HIV.
Alfred stated that the majority of children do not get the virus because they are promiscuous but that they get the virus through parent or adults.
He pointed out that the consultative meeting was to ensure that child’s views and opinions from various districts and regions are factored in the national Children’s conference.
Statements were also made by the District and City Council chairmen who also pledged support to the fight against AIDS.
The consultative conference will increase awareness on HIV and AIDS in children, provide stakeholders with an up to date information on the situation of HIV and AIDS among the Children of Sierra Leone, identify gaps in interventions to reach children and define concrete actions and ways that will help reach the majority of children with HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programs.