President Ernest Bai Koroma yesterday officially opened a two-day consultative conference for faith based and opinion leaders under the umbrella of Inter Religious Council (IRC).
The consultative conference is to strengthen the faith based leaders’ commitment to the overall goal of child survival, especially male participation in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS.
The conference was sponsored by UNICEF and the National AIDS Secretariat.
The UNICEF Country Representative, Geert Cappelaere, stated that in Sierra Leone, as in most parts of the world, faith based organizations were an integral part of life and society found within every community.
Geert noted that as social and cultural institutions, faith based leaders shape social norms, beliefs, attitudes, and people’s realities with regard to sexual self-understanding, which made them a crucial partner in HIV and AIDS.
The UNICEF Country Director averred that, “HIV and AIDS are taking a very serious toll in our communities, stretching the very limits of the social fabric of families”.
He said, “we witness on a daily basis, the devastating effects of the pandemic on young children and the aged”.
Mr Geert said in a country where only 18 percent of young people had comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDS and 25 percent of women illiterate, HIV and AIDS had the potential to sap the foundation and continuity in the country.
The UNICEF Country Director announced that his organization would be making available the sum of 35 million dollars to the government for health issues.
The conference will continue today where over 250 faith base and opinion leaders will identify key factors that can influence male participation in the prevention of mother –to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS to increase knowledge on issues of co-wives testing in relation to HIV and AIDS; raise awareness of the circumstances of infected children and mothers; and also raise awareness of issues surrounding innocent children that have been affected by HIV and AIDS.
By Mohamed Fofanah