Liberia Launches Six-Year Roadmap for Responding to HIV and AIDS

Photo Credit: T. Lincoln Reeves

In a bid to prevent new HIV infections in the country, the National AIDS Commission of Liberia (NAC) and partners have launched the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (NSP) 2015-2020.  The Plan is an evidence-based document that provides the framework for responding to HIV and during the period.  The goal of the document is to stop new HIV infections and to keep people living with HIV alive and healthy in Liberia.  The National Strategic Plan (NSP), has a total estimated cost of US$189,107,477 million, to end HIV in the country by year 2020.  Liberia has an HIV prevalence of 2.1 percent (1.9% HIV1 and 0.2% HIV2) in the reproductive age population, according to the 2013 Liberia Demographic and Health Survey. The Spectrum Modeling estimates revealed that there are 32, 550 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Liberia.      

Launching the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan in Monrovia on May 19, 2016, Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister Julia Duncan Cassell said, taking into consideration the deadly impact of HIV and AIDS, it is imperative that the country redoubles all efforts in responding to the pandemic.  The Gender Minister called for a concerted effort in eradicating the disease because according to her, the disease will not be eradicated by Government alone.  

Said Minister Cassell, 'The launch of this document is a clear demonstration of the commitment of the Government of Liberia, the United Nations and other partners to revert the impact of AIDS.'  She admonished all partners to align their HIV and AIDS interventions with the National Strategic Plan.  She then expressed the Government of Liberia's gratitude to the Global Fund, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations system and other donor organizations for their continued support towards the national HIV response.  

For his part, the Chairman of the National AIDS Commission, Dr. Ivan F. Camanor, said that the Plan was due to be launched last year but was delayed as a result of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which claimed more than 5,000 precious lives in Liberia.  The NAC Chairman noted that the Plan is in line with the 'Goal Three' of the new UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Goal Three of the SDGs talks about ensuring healthy lives and promoting the wellbeing of all for sustainable development.      'We must intensify our prevention activities by ensuring that all pregnant women are tested to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child, and we must also beef up our counselling and testing programs, he cautioned.  

Also speaking at the launching ceremony, Mr. D. Maxwell Kemayah, Chairman of the Board of the Liberia Coordinating Mechanism of Global Fund, expressed serious disappointment with the low level of support being provided by Government to the national HIV response.  Mr. Kemayah, who is also president of the Liberia Business Association, warned, 'I don't think we have to wait until HIV and AIDS become so devastating like the Ebola virus before we attach urgency to the matter'.  

Giving an overview of the NSP 2015-2020, NAC's Partnership Commission Juanita Ramirez intimated that in order to achieve its goal and vision, the National Strategic Plan has seven thematic areas.  The areas, she said, include 1.) Preventing New HIV Infections - Non Clinical; 2.) Preventing New HIV Infections - Clinical; 3.) HIV prevention Programs for Key Populations; 4.) Condom Promotion and Distribution; 5.) HIV Treatment, Care and Support; 6.) Critical Social and Programmatic Enablers and 7.) Synergies with Development Sectors.  Commissioner Ramirez highlighted as major challenge, inadequate domestic financing of the national HIV and AIDS response. At present, she said external funding (Global Fund, UN System and USAID) sources constitute 98% of total AIDS expenditures; while only 2% of funding credited to the government of Liberia.  Other challenges she mentioned include, stigma and discrimination; limited focus on key populations despite the high HIV prevalence among these groups; inadequate number of facilitates proving quality HIV and AIDS services across the country including laboratory testing for viral load and early infant diagnosis; and inadequate funding for the management of the national HIV and AIDS response to expand coordinating mechanisms in the 15 counties.   

In remarks, Senate Committee Chairman on Health Senator Dr. Peter Coleman affirmed the Legislature's commitment to the national HIV and AIDS response noting that despite the global reduction in the prices of such commodities as rubber, iron ore and oil, the need for Government to support the national response to HIV and AIDS is imperative.  Dr. Coleman suggested the redirecting some of the post-Ebola recovery monies towards the national HIV and AIDS response.  

Other speakers at the launch of the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2015-2020 include UNICEF Country Representative Sheldon Yett; Dr. Sampson Azo Akoi, Deputy Chief Medical Officer; Mr. Joejoe Baysah, President, Liberia Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, and Anthony Chan, Mission Director of USAID.    

The National HIV Strategic Plan 2015-2020 was crafted by the National AIDS Commission and partners.  The launch of the NSP brought together representatives from diverse backgrounds including civil society, international donors, government ministries and agencies, NGOs, faith based organizations and the media.