The National AIDS Commission (NAC) under the Chairmanship of Dr. Ivan F. Camanor has developed and launched the nation’s first National Strategic Plan (NSP), with a total estimated cost of US$198, 107, 477 million, to end HIV in the country by year 2020. The launching program which brought together over 200 participants, including representatives of government of Liberia, UNSystem, civil society organizations, religious community and the media, was held atthe Royal Grand Hotel in Sinkor, Monrovia.
According to the Program organizers, the NSP visions to create an HIV and AIDS-free society.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. Dr. Camanorwhile welcoming officials during the opening of program marking the launch of the NSP 2015-2020 thanked partners that supported the development and launch of the national document and said the five year strategic plan provides a framework for how Liberia as a nation plans to address the epidemic during said period.
“The launch of this strategic document signifies a national reactivation and refocusing of efforts on addressing the HIV and AIDS pandemic, considering the overwhelming impact of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) on the national HIV and AIDS response, which led to the suspension or slowing down of many of the HIV services in the country,” Dr. Camanor averred.
Presenting the NSP 2015-2020, Madam Juanita Ramirez, NAC Partnership Commissioner said the plan has a vision to create an AIDS-free society. “It will also serve as the basis for driving the decentralized, multi-sector national HIV response led by the National AIDS Commission. The goals of the NSP 2015-2020 are 1.) to stop new HIV infections and 2.) to keep people living with HIV alive and healthy in Liberia.”In order to achieve the vision and goals, Commissioner Ramirez listed seven (7) key intervention areas explicitly, 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.
“Each area has a set target, strategies, and activities to be implemented,” she furthered.According to her, the strategic document is informed by the results of several studies and research including the Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2013; the 2012 Global AIDS Response Progress Report; the National AIDS Spending Assessment; Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey; Stigma Index Study, and ART Cohort Study. It was developed by the National AIDS Commission and a cross section of partners including the UN Theme Group in Liberia; multilateral and bilateral partners; faith based organizations and civil society organizations.
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.
Subsequently, the NSP was launched by Liberia’s Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister, Madam Julia Duncan Cassell. Launching the nation’s first strategic document, Minister Cassell reminded national and international partners who attended the event and Liberians elsewhere that the successful implementation of theNSP will require the collective contribution of each and every one, not just the Government.
“As we prepare for the UN High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in June of this year, where Liberia will join the rest of the world to commit to ending AIDS by 2020, the launch of the National Strategic Plan is also a demonstration of the Government of Liberia’s collaboration with the UNAIDS and other members of the international community to reverse and end the impact of HIV and AIDS globally,” Minister Cassell.
Making remarks, Dr. Peter Coleman, Senate Chairman on Health Committee affirmed the Legislature’s commitment to the national HIV and AIDS response noting that despite significant reduction in global price of Liberia’s traditional export commodities including iron and rubbers, the need for government to support HIV and AIDS program is imperative as such redirecting some of the monies for the nation’s post Ebola recovery to HIV should be an option for donors. He said there is an ongoing discussion between the government and health practitioners from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to have an amendment to Liberia’s public health law and policies in address challenges facing the HIV sector as mentioned during the overview of the NSP by Commissioner Ramirez.
Other speakers include: Dr. Sheldon Yets of UNICEF, Dr. Sampson AzoAkoi of the Ministry of Health; Mr. Joe Joe Baysah, President Network of People Living With HIV; Mr. D. Maxwell Kemayah Board Chair of Liberia Coordinating Mechanism (LCM) of the Global Fund, and Mr. Anthony Chan of USAID.