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  • on 02.12.2014
  • at 06:33 PM
  • by evelina

Ebola Overshadows Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone 0

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has dwarfed the campaign against HIV/AIDS, to the extent that patients no longer go to hospitals and treatment centres out of fear of contracting the Ebola virus.

“It is a big challenge for us. HIV/AIDS patients now fear going to hospitals for treatment and our workers, who are also government health officials, are also afraid of contacting patients for fear of being infected,” Abubakar Koroma, Director of Communications at the National AIDS Secretariat, told IPS.

Sierra Leone records one of the lowest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the West African region. For over five years, the country has managed to stabilise the figures at 1.5 percent, out of a population of 6 million, mainly because of massive countrywide awareness raising. The authorities also offer free medicines and treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS.
But all this may be reversed if the Ebola crisis is not contained soon.

Before the outbreak of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in April, one key area of success in the fight against HIV/AIDS had been in curtailing mother-to-child transmission. Today, however, there are concerns that it may surge again because pregnant women are now reluctant to go to hospitals for treatment.

In 2004, the prevalence rate among pregnant women was 4.9 percent but, just before the Ebola in April this year, the figure had dropped to 3.2 percent.

According to Koroma, “between January and now, that service [for pregnant women] has dropped by 80 percent. We are worried that the Ebola crisis may worsen the situation.” From the point of view of those already living with HIV/AIDS, this is already happening.

Idrissa Songo, Executive Director of the Network of HIV Positives in Sierra Leone (NETHIPS) advocacy group, says that its members fear going to hospitals for care and treatment and that they are constrained by what he described as a cut in the support they were receiving from donors and humanitarian organisations before the outbreak of Ebola.

“Donors and other philanthropists have turned their attention away from the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Now it’s all about Ebola. Most organisations have diverted their funding to the fight against Ebola and this is badly affecting our activities.”

Continue reading on IPS Africa

By Lansana Fofana / (Edited by Phil Harris)

Photo credit: IPS Africa

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