Press statement by H.E. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, member of the Champions for and AIDS Free Generation in Africa and Former Vice President of Uganda: On occasion of Champions visit to Sierra Leone

1.    We, the Champions for an AIDS Free Generation, visited Sierra Leone from December 29th to 3rd 2015, on a mission to share experiences and encourage leadership to renew and revitalize the response to the HIV epidemic.

 

2.    Honourable Minister of Health, members of the fourth estate, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you very warm greetings from the Champions for an AIDS Free Generation in Africa. We came to Sierra Leone to join you in commemorating World AIDS Day and to exchange views with national leadership, civil society leaders and partners on what can be done to arrest the spread of HIV and AIDS. We came to reach out to our peers and to find solutions together.

 

3.    From the recent success made in the Ebola response, we now know that ending AIDS in Sierra Leone is possible. The Champions are particularly happy that the Government has set bold and ambitious targets towards that direction.

 

4.    The Champions continue to be inspired and encouraged by the commitment and dedication to eliminating AIDS, as shown by our leaders and the people of Sierra Leone. We have followed the developments of the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa and marvelled at how the countries that bore the largest burden of the EVD outbreak finally eliminated it. Allow me, Honourable minister, to commend the leadership and people of Sierra Leone for their resilience and efforts in ending Ebola, and to convey our empathy to the nation for the loss of so many friends and family to this deadly disease.

 

5.    Honourable minister, media, ladies and gentlemen, I come from a country that had a prevalence of 1.5% twenty five years ago. Our complacency and attention to multiple priorities to rebuild Uganda gave space for surprise. The HIV epidemic blossomed, and our bed occupancy with AIDS patients tripled; the country was overwhelmed. Our development agenda was impeded.

 

6.    Today in Sierra Leone, our HIV incidence is seemingly very low compared to those of Eastern and Southern African countries. This can very easily result in complacency to act with less urgency, boldness and vigour. Based on the Ugandan experience, I will enjoin you all to be vigilant and act with even more determination than was invested in the Ebola response in order to avoid a similar surprise.

 

7.    We must act now with urgency and sustained effort, while the window of opportunity is still available. We must act decisively before the epidemic spiral out of our control. We must fast track our efforts, be innovative in our delivery, and be targeted in our approach to areas and populations with the greatest need and vulnerability in order to provide the lifesaving treatment, care and support that they deserve.

 

8.    I joined and interacted with you in Kenema during the World AIDS Day commemorations. I have visited service delivery points, I have met with Ministers and community leaders, I have listened to challenges faced by young people, people living with HIV, and key populations. Most importantly, I had an opportunity to interact with the His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma. Sierra Leone has done well in many areas of the HIV response, however there is so much more we can do in service coverage, scaling up programmes, and in providing quality and targeting of services.

 

9.    It gives us, Champions, great assurance that His Excellency the President is leading the AIDS response and that he is not alone in this fight. We stand in awe as we commend His Excellency the President for government’s allocation of 1.2 billion to the national AIDS response, announced during the World AIDS Day ceremony in Kenema. His Excellency further committed to free HIV and AIDS services for all, especially for children, pregnant women, and key populations.

 

10. By being here, the Champions are reaching out in support to you and the leadership at all levels, including our development partners and the private sector, to join hands in achieving the set targets. We, the Champions, commit to stand by the people of Sierra Leone and to support this country to become a success story in achieving 100% coverage of all HIV services, eliminate new infections in children and vulnerable populations, and achieve zero HIV related discrimination by 2020. We hope to return at a later stage to follow up on the commitments made during this visit and provide more support and advocacy.

 

11. We take this opportunity to express our gratitude for the warm welcome we received in Sierra Leone. As the first West African country visited by the Champions we believe Sierra Leone will pioneer the end of AIDS in the region.

 

12. On behalf of all the Champions for an AIDS Free Generation, I thank you.