The report of the second assessment of the prevalence and distribution of HIV, Syphilis and Viral Hepatitis among key and vulnerable populations in Liberia was launched on Friday, September 10, 2021 in Monrovia.
The observational cross-sectional study, conducted in 10 of the 15 counties in Liberia, used mixed methods sampling methodology, targeting female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender, injecting drug users, inmates, long distance transport workers, mobile traders, uniformed service personnel, and gold and diamond miners.
Presenting key findings of the survey, Mr. Janjay M. Jones, Deputy Program Manager for Monitoring and Evaluation at the National AIDS Control Program said the primary reason for conducting the IBBSS is to determine the level of knowledge, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes about HIV, Syphilis and Viral Hepatitis, as well as determining key HIV risk factors, especially with regards to the HIV status and morbidity among key and vulnerable populations in Liberia.
The 106-page report revealed increased HIV prevalence in almost all the population groups, compared to the 2013 figures, with 37.9% (19.8% in 2013) HIV prevalence in men who have sex with men (MSM), followed by transgender women with 27.6% (not included in 2013 IBBSS), uniformed service personnel, 17.6% (5.0% in 2013), female sex workers (FSW), 16.7% (9.8% in 2013), people who inject drugs (PWID), 14.4% (3.9% in 2013), transport workers, 9.6% (4.8% in 2013), and inmates, 5.6% (not included in 2013 IBBSS). Only mobile traders and miners showed slight declines in HIV prevalence from 4.5% in 2013 to 3.8%, and from 3.8% in 2013 to 3.0%, respectively.
Mr. Jones disclosed additional findings from the survey, indicating Hepatitis B was much more prevalent than Syphilis and Hepatitis C among the key populations, particularly MSM (34%), transgender women (21.9%), FSW (20.1%), and PWID (19.2%). Among the vulnerable populations, Hepatitis B prevalence was 25.0% among uniformed service personnel, closely followed by transport workers, inmates, and miners at 21% each, and lowest among mobile traders at 13.1%.
Officially launching the report, Mr. Lewis Wright, Commissioner for Program and Policy at the National AIDS Commission (NAC), said the IBBSS has provided evidence of the issues that require stakeholders working together to address at the level of their various organizations.
“Unless we come together to deal with the situation that the report presents, the goal of ending AIDS would be undermined. If we, as a country, are to celebrate the end of AIDS, we must discourage stigma and discrimination, and embrace diversity and tolerance in all sectors of the country. This needs collectiveness.” Mr. Wright said.
He highlighted that eliminating stigma and discrimination against Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV), Key Populations (KPs) and vulnerable groups will need a deliberate commitment in putting these groups of people at the center of testing, treatment, viral load suppression and ensuring access to health care services.
Speaking at the launching ceremony, Dr. Moses Jeuronlon, WHO Technical Lead for Disease Prevention and Control in the Liberia Country Office said the report was a milestone in the national HIV response. Committing WHO continued support to the national HIV response, he said the report provides evidence for advocacy and resource mobilization. Also speaking for the Liberia Coordinating Mechanism for the Global Fund, Dr. Jeuronlon said they will go beyond engaging Key Populations in consensus building on priority HIV interventions to ensuring their greater participation in implementation of specified differentiated interventions, with the guiding principle to leave no one behind.
Atty. Bowoulo Taylor Kelley, Director for Legislative Assistance, Treaty Matters and Laws at the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) said, the IBBSS report is important because it would help inform decision makers, partners and stakeholders in advancing the promotion and protection of rights for everyone, void of any form of discrimination.
To mitigate the issues discovered, the report recommends that stakeholders in Liberia should design targeted HIV programs to increase knowledge and skills to reduce high-risk behaviors for transmitting and acquiring HIV infection among key and vulnerable populations and added that the designs of programs and interventions should be user-friendly, allowing for multiple entry points to facilities to access HIV related information, prevention, and treatment services.
In attendance at the launch, and also making remarks at the occasion were key stakeholders including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, USAID, UNFPA, UNICEF, the UN Human Rights agency (OHCHR), Action Aid-Liberia, Plan International, Civil Society Organizations including networks of Key Populations, and the media, among others. All the speakers pledged their institutions support and commitment in working together to implement the recommendations from the study in support of the National HIV Response.