Currently in Sierra Leone 35,000 people suffer from Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV), 2,500 of which are children, according to UNICEF, and the figures are growing at an increasing rate.
According to a 2002 UNICEF survey in cooperation with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, 0.9 percent of the global population suffers from the HIV virus, out of that more than 80 percent are between the ages of 15 and 24.
In 2002, 0.9 percent of the Sierra Leonean population was infected and from 2005 the figure climbed to 1.5 percent.
“That’s an increment of 60 percent, which is alarming,” said Salieu Jalloh, the UNICEF programs communication officer for HIV and AIDS in Sierra Leone. Although the greatest numbers of those afflicted with the disease are in the African eastern block, notably Botswana and South Africa, Jalloh affirmed that UNICEF is committed to prevention and awareness in Western Africa.
“We are concerned about our own situation in Sierra Leone,” he said.
According to Jalloh, this nation faces several unique challenges.
Accessibility to remote communities remains a problem, especially during the rainy season which makes traveling on the roads increasingly difficult, preventing caring for vulnerable groups like women and children.
Adult illiteracy remains dismal, up to 89 percent in some areas, creating misunderstanding and inhibiting HIV and AIDS awareness.
The health care sector is also lacking human resources and trained workers are needed.
Jalloh believes that the most skilled workers are leaving for greater incentives in other countries.
Among the population, UNICEF is focusing on vulnerable groups, namely children.
“We in UNICEF are concerned about children, because children were absent in all the messages for prevention, treatment and care,” said Jalloh.
Accordingly the organization is targeting HIV prevention among children and transmission of the disease from pregnant women to their children.
UNICEF held a consultative meeting with children and community leaders in Bo on Monday to receive input for an upcoming national conference in October.
The organization is also setting goals.
“We have a minimum target of reaching 40,000 pregnant women (for HIV testing) every year,” said Jalloh, which constitutes 20 percent of pregnant women nation wide.
However, last year only about 8,000 were tested. From January to March of this year 240 new cases of HIV have been discovered among pregnant women in Sierra Leone.
Once a positive case is discovered, Jalloh said UNICEF will attempt to provide support including food and nutrition along with teaching child-feeding tactics in order to avoid transmission to infants through breast milk.
Currently HIV testing is available at most government hospitals among 50 of the countries 90 pages with the goal of increasing that number to 80 percent by 2010.
“We need the involvement of everybody,” said Jalloh. “Particularly the traditional leaders, the community heads and the faith-based people, to be able to come together and see this as a threat for the development of the country.”