Honorable Walter T. Gwenigale, MD
Minister of Health and Social Welfare and Vice Chair
National AIDS Commission, Republic of Liberia
The United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS
Reviewing Progress Achieved in Realizing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS
The 2006 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS
June 10-11, 2008
Delivered on Behalf
Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of The Republic of Liberia
UNITED NATIONS JUNE 10, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, New York JUNE 10, 2008
Mr. Secretary General; Excellencies Distinguished Heads of State and Government; Heads of Delegations; Honorable Ministers;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I bring you greetings from Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Government and the people of the Republic Liberia. I thank the organizers of this very important High-Level Assembly that is devoted to reviewing our joint progress toward the goals of the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS.
Mr. Secretary General, my delegation is aware that this meeting is taking place at a crucial time. Two years from now, the world community will be taking stock of our response to the challenge to attain universal access to the prevention, treatment, care and support to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. My delegation is here to report on Liberia’s progress in accelerating our national response to this epidemic.
In responding to this epidemic, Liberia’s vision remains one of creating an AIDS free society; and by extension, creating a global community of societies free of AIDS. Each of us here today faces the challenge of HIV and AIDS in our own countries. Our collective vision of a world liberated from the scourge of HIV and AIDS brings us all together to provide the leadership needed to defeat this global menace.
Mr. Secretary General and Distinguished Delegates, the 2007 World AIDS Day Theme was centered on the role of leadership at every level in designing effective programs to improve HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services. In Liberia, Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has emphasized that the focus on leadership involves everyone and covers every level of society, from the smallest village to this global assembly of the United Nations.
The global battle against AIDS is a major challenge for us all. Recognizing the magnitude of this battle, we need to launch a major HIV prevention program, targeting not only our young people, but especially serving the needs of women, who continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the disease in Liberia and globally.
As you may be aware, Liberia has begun the process of recovery and development after more than 14 years of civil conflict. In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected head of state on the African continent. Through her leadership, substantial progress is being made with legislative, judicial, and economic reforms, and with the restoration of basic services – including health care. Seeing these advances, the international community and donors have shown renewed confidence in Liberia’s future.
Despite the optimism generated by the election of President Sirleaf, the government of Liberia faces serious social challenges. Liberia’s health services were completely disrupted by the conflict. Ninety percent of Liberia’s doctors, nurses and other health professionals left the country during the war. Hospitals and clinics were looted and vandalized or often just burned down. During the civil war we were unable to respond to HIV and AIDS.
The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in Liberia in 1986. In response, the Government of Liberia created the National HIV and AIDS and STI Control Program, also known as NACP. In 1987, a National AIDS Commission was formed. These programs fell apart during the 1990s due to the prolonged civil crisis. But I am pleased to report that the NACP was restructured and expanded in early 2007. The National AIDS Commission was reconstituted in June 2007, under the leadership of President Sirleaf herself. Today, in keeping with the theme of leadership, our reconstituted AIDS Authority is developing a new national strategy, guided by the “three ones” principle of UNAIDS: one national AIDS Authority, one national strategic framework, and one national monitoring and evaluating system.
Data collection to determine the prevalence of HIV in Liberia has been intensified. There are substantial differences between two principal surveys. The 2007 Demographic and Health Survey found an HIV prevalence rate of 1.5 percent, with a higher rate among women than among men. The same survey found 2.5 percent HIV prevalence in the capital city of Monrovia and in certain areas in the southeastern region of the country.
Two antenatal care, or “ANC,” surveys have also been conducted recently. National HIV prevalence in the 2006 ANC survey was 5.7 percent among pregnant women in urban areas. Data from the 2007 ANC survey shows relatively similar prevalence rate: 5.4 percent. The survey also indicates that areas in the southeastern and eastern regions of the country have higher prevalence rates: 7.4 percent in both regions. In one area, HIV prevalence of 13 percent among antenatal mothers has been recorded.
Mr. Secretary General and Distinguished Delegates, countries such as Liberia, whose people are threatened and at times decimated by HIV and AIDS, are very aware of the effects this epidemic has on our efforts at social and economic recovery and development. My government believes that HIV and AIDS are serious threats to attaining our human development goals. For this reason the Government of Liberia has integrated AIDS action into its broader development agenda – the Poverty Reduction Strategy, approved in April of this year. This strategy aims to move our country beyond interim policy strategies, towards sustainable development.
We continue to face serious challenges. These include scaling up prevention programs; expanding access to treatment; reducing the impact on orphans and other children made vulnerable by AIDS; and addressing the challenge of rape of our young girls and women, whose lives are forever changed by the trauma, and by the likelihood of being infected with HIV.
Working toward those goals with the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, we have truly strengthened our national response to HIV and AIDS and have placed almost 2,000 persons living with HIV and AIDS on treatment. Liberia’s full report to this Assembly contains the efforts we have made and the successes we have achieved.
Excellencies: Under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia reaffirms her commitment and resolve to fight HIV and AIDS. To succeed, we must also address poverty, illiteracy, and the improvement of our health care system. We are doing this through the national health policy and plan, and the implementation mechanism, titled “Basic Package of Health Services.” We firmly believe that these actions will contribute to making life better for our people.
Excellencies: Ultimately, we envision that Liberia will be free from the scourge of HIV and AIDS. But, we cannot achieve this goal alone. We need a new partnership that helps us build on the gains we have already begun to see.
I conclude these statements by giving thanks to the member states of the United Nations for the investments you continue to make in Liberia through the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). We could not have achieved the successes we have so far without the PEACE UNMIL has made possible in Liberia.
We thank the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and TB for the financial resources we have been provided, and all the UN agencies and the Clinton Foundation for their technical support in using these funds.
We will continue to count on the leadership of each of you and your countries, to help us sustain the gains we have made, and to confront and overcome the threat that HIV and AIDS pose to our aspirations for national development.
Mr. Secretary General; Distinguished Delegates; Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.