UNMIL Press Conference on Activities Ahead of World AIDS Day
Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Today’s Press Briefing at UNMIL Headquarters in Monrovia. My name is Aleem Siddique and I am the UNMIL Spokesperson. A very special warm welcome to all of our listeners on UNMIL Radio who have joined on this live press conference, and we are very pleased to be joined by a number of guests today, ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December which is held every year. We are joined today by our partners from the National AIDS Commission, Dr. Ivan F. Camanor; Mr. Joejoe Baysah, President of the Liberian Network of People living with HIV/AIDS; Mr. Kelvin Sebwe, Technical Director of Sports at the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Some of you may know that Mr. Sebwe was also a famous footballer in years past, so welcome Mr. Sebwe. And we are also joined by Mr. Sonpon Blamoh Sieh, Program Manager National AIDS and STIs Control Program, here at UNMIL Headquarters to address journalists on the activities in observance of this year’s World AIDS Day on the 1st of December. And so without further I do could I hand to our first speaker, Dr. Ivan Camanor for his initial remarks. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Dr. Camanor, National AIDS Commission – Thank you so much for welcoming us and thank you very much for allowing us to meet again with the colleagues, the journalists to speak about World AIDS Day. It is an important day. World AIDS Day was set aside by the international community to basically remember all those who have died because of the HIV/AIDS. I think globally we estimate that about 33 million people live with HIV and about 23- 25 million people have died since the pandemic. And in our own country we estimate that 33,000 people are living with HIV, we don’t have adequate statistics on the number of Liberians who have died but we estimate around 3,000 people die every year, so that will be a significant number of people who have perished because of the pandemic. So on World AIDS Day, we basically bring to mind or remember all those of our relatives, friends, countrymen and citizens that have died. And also take the opportunity to renew our commitment and determination to stop the spread of HIV in our country. Our national response goal is basically to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce the incidents of HIV and that’s a lot of a goal. So on this day we remember this and we make our commitment because HIV is still a major health problem in our country and in the world. And still there is an international commitment and determination to stop HIV. We do have now a global goal, basically a vision that within a reasonable future there will be no new cases of HIV, there will be no deaths related to HIV and importantly there will be no discrimination because of HIV. I think our colleagues and ourselves will discuss these issues further as we answer questions. One of the key things that we know for sure is that HIV is preventable and that those who are infected by HIV can be put on treatment and can live healthy lives. These are some of the messages that we want to put out today so that we create greater awareness about the pandemic and then renew our commitment to prevent the spread of HIV.
Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson – Thank you so much Doctor. Very encouraging messages there particularly one of the take-home messages I am taking home is that HIV is preventable and that we can take action on this issue as long as we have awareness and that’s an important message that I think we do need to share across Liberia. Thank you so much for your initial comments. I just like to hand over Mr. Kelvin Sebwe, Technical Director of Sports at the Ministry of the Youth and Sports for his comments, thank you.
Kelvin Sebwe - The Senior Professional football team comprises of ex-professional players. We have played all over the world, including top players like Ambassador George Weah, James Debbah, Joe Nagbe, Jonathan Sogbie, Dionysius Sebwe and the rest of the crew. We are proud to do partnership with the National AIDS Commission on this program. We have been contributing to Liberia through sports and this time around after our respective professional football careers; we thought it was a best thing to do - to do something meaningful for Liberia that is, giving the AIDS awareness. It is so true that AIDS is real and that there are not lot of people who are taking it seriously especially the young people. And we think because of our popularity and the fame we earned in this country we should join the rest of the people in spreading the news about AIDS, whether it is through abstinence or it’s through prevention, we are in the cause with the Commission and we are going to do our best to let the people and the young people know, to safe lives in Liberia and to also let people know that there is no discrimination when it comes to AIDS, people are unfortunate and we should live with them, welcome them and hope that this thing is not going to continue and that we are not going to have a high rate of AIDS in our country. So I just want to say we are so grateful to be part of this program and we are really looking forward to spread the message with the rest of the crew. Thank you.
Aleem Siddique –– Thank you so much Mr. Sebwe for your encouraging thoughts. If I could just pass on next to Mr. Joejoe Baysah, President of the Liberia Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. Thank you for joining us Mr. Joejoe.
Mr. Joejoe Baysah - Thank you very much. Today for me is a happy day. I believe this program is a good program when it comes to the three zeros because HIV is everybody’s business and it is not just one person’s business. Having a press conference on HIV/AIDS today is important because people living with HIV/AIDS are like any other person around the world. Stigma and discrimination is helping to spread the virus so we all must come together to stop stigma and to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS especially when it comes to mother to child transmission so we all can live healthy lives. Living with HIV is no longer a death sentence. I usually tell people that I am not living with HIV; HIV is living with me because I control it. I am living a normal life, healthy, strong and if I don’t tell people that I am HIV positive nobody will ever believe it. So I am living with HIV, I am living a healthy life, and I am contributing to the development of the country. Thank you.
Aleem Siddique –– Thank you Mr. Joejoe for your inspiring words and I hope it will resonate not just him but across Liberia for those who are affected by HIV/AIDS. So thank you so much for your comments. I will hand over to our last speaker for this morning Mr. Sonpon Blamoh Sieh, Program Manager National AIDS and STIs Control Program. Thank you.
Mr. Sonpon Blamoh Sieh,– Well thank you ever so much. My name is Sonpon Blamoh Sieh, I come from the National AIDS Control Program. Having been the nucleus of all that we see today I thought this day was very important so I thought to come to speak on the issues in observance of the day. Because we come from the health sector we are the burden of the problem, meaning people who are infected do go for treatment at the health facilities. So what has been the progress so far up-to-date? In 2007, there were like three testing centers in this country. From 2007 to today, we managed to have 366 testing centers around the country. So we have made some tremendous progress. Around 2007, we had less than one percent of the adult population being tested for HIV. Today we have 7.8 percent of the adult population being tested for HIV and that’s good for us. In 2007, we had less than 10 prevention-from-mother-to-child-transmission centers providing treatment for moms who were HIV positive in ensuring that they did not transmit the virus to their babies. Today, we have 345 testing centers in this country. We had less than 50 percent of those mothers who babies were tested being HIV negative. Many of them were around 60 percent being HIV positive. Today we have less than 12 percent of babies who are born to HIV mothers that are HIV positive. So you have pretty close to of the babies being negative – that’s progress. We had 916 persons on the Antiretroviral (ART) in care receiving treatment services in 2007, and today we have pretty close to 10,000 persons receiving treatment for HIV. But where are the challenges? We do have major challenges. And I think the take-home message is to see how we can address these challenges. We have done some surveys and those have provided some information to us, many of the patients, out of 2000 patients that were traced and talked to as to why they were not coming back for service were seen in charismatic churches in the hands of people, praying, providing testimonies and saying that they would heal HIV. A large number of the people are in the hands of these people. The message is to see how these people can help us and send back these patients to the treatment centers while the provide the services they want to. Many of the patients have also been seen in the hands of the traditional healers who say they will provide treatment for them. The take-home message is to see how these traditional healers can support us to bring back these patients. We have diverted pretty close to 3000 deaths since 2007, people that would have died but because they are on treatment they are living good life and it is about dignity. So it is to you the press, what has been you message form you to your community? The disease has no boundary. I am bringing to you today to please go out and spread the words and the good news that treatment is available. Early treatment adherence, you will live longer and there will be a dignity of life for you. Thank ever so much.
Aleem Siddique - Thank you so much Mr. Sieh for your encouraging words particularly with the emphasis on early treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. I think a very important message for the people of Liberia. And with our speakers’ initial remarks; I would like to open up the floor here at UNMIL headquarters to the journalists and ask if they have any questions for our speakers. Please over to journalists do we have any first question from any journalist? If you could introduce yourself and the news organization that you are representing please.