‘Gays Increasing HIV Prevalence in Liberia’

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Liberia is experiencing a high prevalence rate of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) amongst its male population, a new report reveals.

According to the new 2013 Liberia Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS), that is the a result of a “man going out with men”, or high increase in homosexual (gay) activities in the country.

The LDHS report said HIV prevalence amongst men has increased from 1.2 in 2007 to 1.7 in 2013; a staggering five-digit difference in just six years. This is the result of homosexual activities increasing at an alarming rate, especially among men, the report said.

The survey was conducted by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the National AIDS Control Program (NACP).

At the National AIDS Commission of Liberia (NACL) Board of Directors’ Meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  LISGIS Project Director Girmue Gbawoquiya said HIV victims are predominantly located in urban areas.

The NACL board meeting was chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the head of the Board of Directors. Other board members include Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, who is the Co-chair of the Board.

Mr. Gbawoquiya also said that other segments of the general population also experiencing high HIV prevalence rate include female commercial sex workers, injected drugs users, uniform service personnel, miners, transport workers and mobile traders.

The LDHS shows that Greater Monrovia and other urban cities, where most homosexual activities are concentrated, have the highest prevalence burden of 3.2 percent and 2.6 percent respectively as compared to rural Liberia with a lesser prevalence of 0.8 percent.

The survey also named Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa, as the hardest hit counties with a total prevalence rate of 2.7 percent.

By comparison, Mr. Gbawoquiya said, there is only a slight increase on the overall population for the past six years from 1.5 percent to 1.9 in regards to the low level generalized HIV epidemic prevalence rate.

Although the prevalence of HIV/AIDS still higher among women as reported in the 2007 LDHS survey, it is amongst the men that there has is a significant surge in recent years, the latest report says.

“Studies on key and most at risk populations conducted in 2013 show high HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men, female commercial sex workers, injected drugs users, uniform service personnel, miners, transport workers and mobile traders.”

The HIV prevalence rate in Liberia according to the LDHS statistic of 2007 is 1.5 percent. Women were the highest infected with a prevalence rate of 1.8 percent while the rate among men is 1.2 percent.

“The national prevalence rate has increased to 1.9 percent newest LDHS (2013) report shows a steady increase in the prevalence rate. Though more women still fall victims to this deadly virus with a prevalence rate of 2.0, but there is a high increment in incidences of men from 1.2 in 2007 to 1.7 in 2013 a staggering five digit difference in just seven years.”

The LIGIS Project Director also indicated that sexual transmission and mother to child transmission still remains the main routes of transmission. He noted that co-infection with tuberculosis is a major complication as some 22 percent of TB patients also have HIV infection.

“The TB and HIV programs have on-going collaborative efforts to address the co-infections through the provision of HIV testing and treatment services.”

HIV prevalence distribution by regions shows that the South Central region, which includes Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties, bears the highest burden of 2.7 percent. This is followed by the South Eastern B region, including River Cess, Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties with 1.8 percent.

The South Eastern A region, including Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland Counties, has a prevalence rate of 1.3 percent. And Both North Western region, Bomi, Cape Mount and Gbarpolu;  and North Central, Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties, regions shows low prevalence of 0.9 and 0.7 percents respectively.

Meanwhile, Mr. D. Maxwell Kemayah, who is one of the board members, said that the issue of homosexuality must be tackled strongly by the country’s leadership in order to put a stop to this rapid spread of the virus.

Mr. Kemayah, who is the president of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), added: “There needs to be a harsh decision taken in order to deter people from the act.”

He said if Liberians are to preserve their African heritage, this kind of act should be discouraged completely.

The Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, for his part said that Liberians should not pretend that the act of homosexuality is not going on in the country. “Men are going out with men in this country; so let us not pretend that these things are not happening. This is Liberia.”

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