By John Baimba Sesay-Freetown :
On Thursday, 21st. May,Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh who was representing President Ernest Bai Koroma, said” the Ebola outbreak which erupted in Sierra Leone in May of 2014 has become the longest, most severe, and most complex disease in the history of Sierra Leone and had reversed the gains the country has made in containing and eliminating disease like HIV/AIDS”.
Vice President Foh was delivering the Key Note Address at the launching ceremony of of the National HIV/AIDS Partnership Forum of Positioning the AIDS Response in Sierra Leone’s Post Ebola Recovery Agenda.
According to Vice President Foh, “to date, nearly 8,600 cases and nearly 3,600 deaths have been reported and that the disease has strongly impacted on the country’s “capacity to deliver basic Health Services including free HIV services nationwide.”
The Ebola Virus Disease,he said, forced patients and some health workers away from health facilities thereby reversing the gains in containing and eliminating diseases like HIV/AIDS.
“The epidemic escalated from a public health emergency to an economic and cultural problem that threatened the welfare, the way of life of our people; and our development agenda. The outbreak dented our strides to improve health services for our pregnant women, lactating mothers, children under five and our citizens’ suffering from diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS”
Sierra Leone, Vice President Foh said, is not yet completely out of the woods in the fight against Ebola, but that victory was in sight.
With the professionalism of the country’s health workers, the dedication of volunteers, and the support from international partners,the Vice President said, “we have taken the upper hand in the fight against Ebola”, but stressed, “this is a fight where everybody, every district and every region must emerge victorious before the country become victorious.”
According to the Vice President, there should be no half victories against Ebola as the country needs total victory, “and for that to happen, the type of behavior in which a man ran away from quarantine and was hidden by people for many days should not happen again. No family must hide its sick, no community must bury its dead without calling in health authorities to ensure safe burials; and no region must lower its guard on the actions that should be taken to ensure total victory. It is only when we do this that we can finally put Ebola behind us just like our brothers and sisters in Liberia – they didn’t do anything different – they simply followed the instructions. ”
As the citizens achieve this hard won victory together, he said, it is imperative that we start putting in place the structures for a full recovery as in his view, now is the time for us to reactivate all those initiatives that support our comprehensive post Ebola recovery plan.
Sierra Leone, the Vice President said, was on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 on HIV by the end of 2015. “Since 2002, the response has been given high level of awareness through the concerted efforts of the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat; Ministries, Departments and Agencies; Development Partners; the Media; Civil and Religious Organizations.”
However, the scourge of the Ebola virus,he said, has adversely affected our performance in meeting the specific MDG Targets on HIV/AIDS.
The delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services to our population,Vice President Foh said, has suffered a downward trend. “As of November2014, 25% of patients on treatment in the hospitals did not honor their appointment to collect their drugs. There was a 70% reduction in the number of HIV tests within the same period and the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) interventions stalled.”
It was therefore gratifying,he went on, to note that the forum seeks to focus on, among other things the; “timely actions to pre-position the AIDS Response in the post 2015 AIDS discussions of ending AIDS by 2030; Discuss the impact of EVD on the AIDS Response; and Identify national strategies for adopting a short and long term post Ebola Recovery Plan for the HIV/AIDS programme. This includes domestic resource mobilization to sustain the national response.”
The Vice President encouraged all actors to ensure that their efforts are aligned to the overall national post Ebola recovery plan.
“It is urgent for us to recover the gains made in the fight against HIV/AIDS before the Ebola disease and doing so, we have to turn the challenges to opportunities. So explore every avenue to realise the ultimate goal. Let me in that light entreat all actors and our development partners that as we fight to end Ebola in Sierra Leone, it is important that the support to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care continues. It is only through such collaborative efforts that we can get back to and sustain the gains that have been made over the years. ”
The HIV/AIDS response, the Vice President said, needs support from all partners more than ever before as it is only sustained support that would prevent a spike in new infections and resurgence of the disease.
It was refreshing,he said, to see so many people from diverse fields uniting around a major concern; the – prevention, treatment, care, support and eventual eradication of HIV/AIDS is central to my government. Such collaboration and collective effort,he said, demonstrate a remarkable commitment to our post-Ebola recovery engagements. Government alone cannot do it.
“That is why we acknowledge and applaud the tremendous contributions from our development partners in this important fight against HIV/AIDS.”
Government,he assured, will make it a priority to strengthen the HIV/AIDS governance systems and structures that will foster participation and improve access to services. “Despite our numerous challenges and competing priorities, my government will endeavour to increase support to the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat for coordinating the national response. ”
Speaking earlier were Deputy Minister of Health, Foday Braima Sawi, representative from Civil Society,the UN family etc. Making a presentation on National AIDS Response in the post Ebola recovery agenda was Dr Alhaji Momodu Sesay,Director-General, HIV/AIDS Secretariat.