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 ‘No waiver for HIV, Tuberculosis & Malaria drugs’

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July 13, 2018

By Jariatu S. Bangura

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Executive Director of Legal Aid Board, Madam Carlton Hanciles

Legal Aid Board Executive Director, Fatmata Carlton Hanciles, has confirmed to Members of Parliament that there was no duty waiver for the National AIDs Secretariat to clear essential drugs for Tuberculosis, HIV and Malaria at the Queen Elizabeth Quay II.

This confirmation was made at a workshop organised by the Legal Aid Board in partnership with National AIDs Secretariat and with support from Global Fund for Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Human Rights and Legislature.

Madam Carlton Hanciles said that in 2012, Parliament enacted the Legal Aid Board with a mandate to provide, administer, coordinate and monitor the provision of Legal Aid in civil and criminal matters within communities across the country.

She said: “It is sad to let you know that there is no waiver for essential drugs at the port when commodities are sent for the health of both people living with AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria. It is very strange. We really need your support to advocate domestic resources to both the Secretariat and other relevant health institutions.”

She further stated that they have met with officials at the Ministry of Health, Port Authority and other stakeholders but the move was yet to yield fruit. She revealed that drugs for HIV/AIDS patients are still locked in containers and depreciating in value even as patients are dying for want of the drugs.

She claimed that key groups in communities: clique gangs, commercial sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDs are not provided with much needed support, adding that the Government of Sierra Leone should pay utmost attention to that category of people.

“We need to revamp our awareness raising campaigns and further proffer solutions to their concerns,” she said, stressing that there are victims in our community and that they are also represented by lawmakers.

Director General of National AIDS Secretariat, Alhaji Dr. Momodu Sesay said the issue of people living with AIDs was very important. According to him, the last survey that was conducted indicated that out of 7million population, 1.5% are living with HIV/AIDS, with 24,000  people receiving treatment while 61,000 are living with the virus across the country.

He said access to healthcare, test and counseling are human right issues which should be urgently prioritised. He further urged lawmakers to review the HIV/AIDS Act, 2011.

“Access to justice and discrimination against people living with HIV are societal challenges that should be promptly addressed,” he said and added that the review of the Act was needed to address challenges facing people living with HIV.

He revealed that they are still providing free testing and counseling but some victims or people living with HIV are afraid to visit health centres because of the fear or discrimination in communities.

Dr. Sesay stated that the Secretariat is constraint with low funding. Despite these challenges, he said Global Fund has not relented as they recently shipped drugs to the country, although those drugs have not been cleared at the quay.

Chairman of the Health Committee, Hon. Moses Jorkie, assured that they would support the work of the Secretariat. He admitted that there are a lot of people living with HIV who are afraid to visit health facilities because there is no confidentiality by health workers.

He said the number is growing pretty fast but could not be traced because of fear of discrimination by members of the public and partners.

Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Hon Daniel B. Koroma, commended the Secretariat for the giant venture in training MPs on health related issues and how to confront them.

He said Sierra Leoneans need to be thoroughly sensitised in all communities, and urged the Secretariat to replicate what obtains in South Africa by providing incentives to people living with HIV after being tested positive. He said this would persuade them to come out without fear, adding that there is nothing like stigma in countries where the disease is prevalent.

He urged the Secretariat and Legal Aid Board to come forward with regulations in support of reviewing the Act.

Hon. Brima Mansaray of Constituency 017 in Kenema district controversially appealed that people living with HIV should be confined in order to reduce the spread of the disease.

He averred that HIV related issues are very complex and serious, adding that if issues affecting people living with HIV are not addressed, the few percentage of people afflicted by the disease would endanger the lives of majority of the population.

The lawmakers recommended that Port Authority, Ministry of Health and National Revenue Authority should be summoned, review of HIV/AIDS laws, open test, non-discrimination and access to test kits and anti-viral drugs.