It further comprised representatives from the six high burden HIV districts: Freetown, Bombali, Bo, Kenema, Kono and Port Loko. The workshop was held at the WFP Programme Complex, Port Loko District, North-Western Province of Sierra Leone.
Whilst delivering his statement during the opening session of the workshop, Dr. Michael Gboun, UNAIDS Country Director in Sierra Leone thanked the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for her support towards the programme. He said, the workshop contributes to the intensifying actions on implementing goals and targets reflected in the UNAIDS Strategy 2016-2021 and also said it reflects the 2016 Political Declaration. He added that the workshop also enhanced and fast-track commitments to end AIDS by 2030 particularly the target of Strengthening national social and child protection system to ensure that by 2020, 75% of people living with HIV benefits from HIV sensitive social protection.
In his overview of Social Protection, Dr. Gboun said that there is powerful proof that social protection reduces HIV risks, improves access to HIV testing and treatment and adherence, and alleviates the impact of the AIDS epidemic.
The UNAIDS Country Head further confirmed: “Social protection schemes are on the increase in all regions and they offer major opportunities to protect greater numbers of people against HIV infections and other threats to their health, increase access to and adherence to HIV services.”
In addition, Dr. Gboun stated that the combination of social protection provisions have cumulative effects in reducing new HIV infections and increasing adherence to HIV treatments. Therefore, he said the expansion of social protection programmes to cover vulnerable people including people living with HIV, are at risk of or affected by HIV in the financially feasible and scalable real world.
At this juncture, the UNAIDS Country Chief commended Sierra Leone for doing well in supporting vulnerable groups. He sadly expressed that since the end of the country’s 11 years civil war in 2002, and the Ebola outbreak that killed over 4,000 people leaving behind Ebola Survivours, orphans, widows and dissipated some families and villages, the country now has multiple groups of vulnerability. He cited examples like sex workers, PLHIV, MSM, People with disability, Ebola Survivours, Transgender, Child Headed Households, adolescent girls, teenage mothers, orphans, PWID.
Therefore, he commended the government of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma for putting in place several strategies to cushion the suffering of Sierra Leoneans. Hs said on March 30th 2011, the Cabinet approved a National Social Protection Policy that defines specific outcome and prioritrize interventions. He said, the strategy focuses on 10 areas namely: increasing access to education and health services; expanding existing pilot social assistance programs; encouraging traditional family and community support for the vulnerable; promoting insurance schemes; providing transfer to increase the use of social service; providing homes or shelters for elderly and abused children; promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment; supporting livelihood and empowerment opportunities; developing small and medium-size enterprises; and building infrastructure that is accessible to the physically challenged.
Furthermore, whilst opening the workshop on behalf of the Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, North-West Regional Assistant Director of the Ministry- Mr. Bamie Sesay expressed he sincere gratitude to UNAIDS for collaborating with the Ministry in hosting the landmark event. He apologised for the absence of the Cabinet Minister, Hon. Dr. Sylvia Blyden, whom Mr. Bamie Sesay said was unavoidably absent due to other official assignments.
In addition, Mr. Bamie Sesay expressed confidence that the findings and outcome of the workshop will support decision making in strengthening HIV sensitivity of Social Protection programmes.
Meanwhile, other individuals that made remarks during the openings sessions of the workshop were representative of: World Food Programme (WFP); National AIDS Secretariat (NAS); Network on HIV Positives (NETHIPS); Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES); Consortium to Advance the Rights of Key Affected Populations (CARKAP); Youths and Paramount Chief Mafoki Chiefdom, PC Alikali Mela III. All the speakers assured of the commitments in ensuring that the issue of HIV and Social Protection in Sierra Leone becomes a success.
The two days workshop will end on Wednesday 28th June, 2018.