Liberia: HIV Rates Soar in Montserrado, Margibi, Gr. Bassa

.... ..... Says National Aids Commission, showing steep escalation in HIV prevalence in populated counties, with the disease unevenly distributed, with urban dwellers being affected the most.

Unprotected sex is fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS in  Montserrado and two other counties, which has now become the epicenter of the disease as it affects the country’s urban population at a high rate. 

While HIV/AIDS cases in Liberia have been held at bay by potent antiviral drugs, the disease still remains a health threat as it is holding ground in some of the largest counties in Liberia — Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa — which now account for about 70% of the country’s HIV cases.

The update from the National AIDS Commission, which comes as the country commemorates World AIDS Day, shows a steep escalation in HIV prevalence in populated counties, with the disease unevenly distributed, with urban dwellers being affected the most.

“The annual death rate as a result of AIDS-related complications in Liberia is put at 900, while 1,000 persons get infected with HIV every year,” said Theodosia Kolee, the Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission.  

“The unprecedented rise in HIV prevalence among key groups of people calls for rigorous effort and collaboration from all sectors of the country to ensure that no one is left behind in responding to this health problem.”

According to Kolee, there is no way Liberia can end AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat when stigma and discrimination remain the major threat due to “blocks that are not brought under control; this is why collective effort is required,” he said. 

“If they must end AIDS by 2030. Increase the availability, quality, and suitability of services for HIV treatment, testing, and prevention, so that everyone is well-served.”

And while Liberia’s HIV/AIDS prevalence is low as compared to many countries in the ECOWAS region,   about 1.3% of the population is still HIV positive, meaning there are an estimated 40,000 people living with the disease in the country. 

This is according to a 2020 blog post on the website of the United States Embassy in Liberia, which says only 68% of the individuals, however, know their positive status, and even fewer are on continuous treatment.

These statistics mean nearly a third of HIV-positive people, around 12,800 Liberians, do not know their status and may not be taking appropriate actions to avoid transmitting the disease, such as engaging in safe sex or receiving treatment, it added. 

According to the revered National Library of Medicine, HIV prevalence within Liberia has been observed to be unevenly distributed, being higher among certain subgroups including urban area dwellers (2.6% in the capital city of Monrovia compared to 0.8% in rural areas).

The rate among female sex workers stands at 16.7%, men who have sex with men is 37.9%, transgender women at 27.6%, and persons who inject drugs at 14.4%, the Library cited the country’s Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS) Report, which was published in 2021. 

However, HIV testing among the general population is significantly lacking as documented in the 2019–2020 Liberia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), where respondents 15–49 years of age, 66% of men and 45% of women, say they had never been tested for HIV.

And in 2019, UNAIDS published a thorough study on the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS in the nation. According to the report, just 33% of those living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART).

This equates to 15,000 patients now getting daily HIV treatment.  Out of this number, 763 children, account for barely 21% of all affected youngsters in the country.

According to UNAIDS’ 2019 report, roughly 53% of those surveyed in Liberia answered no when asked if they would purchase products from a vendor who was HIV positive. 

This indicates that the country does not just struggle with treatment plans, but also education on the disease and breaking down stigma heightens the threat of further spread, putting the health and safety of the entire population at risk. 

The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-3) has a target to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS by 2030 when the number of new HIV infections and ‘AIDS-related deaths decline by 90% between 2010 and 2030.

However, it remains to be seen whether Liberia, which faces enormous challenges with its HIV/AIDS response, including low rates of HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy use, all of which have been exacerbated by HIV-related stigma, poverty, and other structural barriers to accessing healthcare services, will achieve that UN Goal.

“The Aids Commission is therefore seeking bold, deliberate, and strong political actions to end AIDS by 2030. That action is needed to increase the availability, quality, and suitability of services, for HIV treatment, testing, and prevention, so that everyone is well-served,” the Commission said.

“The National Aids Commission also wants reform laws, policies, and practices to tackle the stigma and exclusion faced by people living with HIV and by key and marginalized populations so that everyone is shown respect and is welcomed as well as allow communities to make use of, and adapt the “Equalize” message to highlight the particular inequalities they.”

Meanwhile, the National Aids Commission has announced intentions to start a US$1 rally to gather domestic money to cover the shortfall indicated in the implementation of the country’s National Strategic Plan.

Every year, Liberia joins the rest of the World to commemorate World AIDS Day. The day was set aside by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) in 1988 to provide an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and remember those who have died of AIDS-related complications. 

Since then, World AIDS Day has been commemorated on December 1 every year. This year’s World AIDS Day will be commemorated under the global Theme, “Equalize, and the national Theme: “End Inequalities; End HIV in Liberia.”