According to the Consortium for the Advancement of Rights for Key Affected Populations (CARKAP) stigmatization and discrimination is seriously affecting people suffering from HIV and AIDs. CARKAP is the lead umbrella civil society organisation implementing community system strengthening, for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to improve access to quality health services delivery for key affected populations. Friday 25th October 2019, they engaged cross section of the media at their office on Circular Road, where the Program Manager of CARKAP Harry Ben Alpha disclosed that such engagement is aimed at sharing relevant information on the organisations target of key affected populations in the country ranging from sex workers, people who inject drugs and the transgender amongst others. Doing a presentation on sex workers in Sierra Leone, the Secretary of CARKAP Aruna Rashid Koroma noted that there are about 180,000 to 300,000 sex workers in Sierra Leone and 8.5% of such workers are living with HIV and Aids. He said stigma, discrimination and ignorance are key issues affecting key populations in Sierra Leone and due to such attitudes, the fight against the virus has been a major challenge. He maintained that the laws of Sierra Leone is also a problem to sex workers, noting that “our law books does not criminalise sex workers but yet still they are being arrested by the police.” Koroma pointed out that sex workers are the mantra in their work and they are teaming up with a lot of organisations in order to curtail the spread of the virus across the country. According to the Program Manager of Network of HIV Positive Martin Ellie, stigma around HIV and AIDs is very strong and it comes with a lot of ignorance.
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He reiterated that stigma and discrimination are key setbacks, that should be surmounted in order to tackle the HIV. He called on Sierra Leoneans who are in such a habit to refrain from it, citing that it has the tendency to increase the spate of the virus. In his presentation on drugs and injection, Habib Kamara condemned the Drug Act of 2008, noting that such Act is very discriminatory.” We should not punish people who use drugs but rather give them attention.” He furthered that the intake of drugs is on the increase in the country adding that initially boys were taking tramadol tablet, but they have now migrated to tramadol injection and ‘kush.’ He said ‘kush’ is the recent dangerous drugs in the country, and girls have also joined the bandwagon. The National Coordinator of Dignity Hudson Tucker informed the press that, it is difficult to identify transgender people and same sex couples for men in the country. He said 99% of the people in it are underground and they are very secretive in their dealings. According to the Project Officer, of Voice of Women Kadija Mansaray 3,500 women and adolescent girls are living with HIV and Aids. She stated that most of the complaints they are getting from the victims are that of discrimination and stigma in society, which is affecting them in the HIV fight. Wrapping up the ceremony, the Chairperson of CARKAP Madam Marie Benjamin called on Sierra Leoneans to stand up against discrimination and stigmatization in order to tackle the virus, “we need to stand up whenever someone’s right is being violated so that we can eradicate this menace in our society.”
By Mohamed J. Bah
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