In an exclusive interview with Politico on November 29, 2023, Abdul Rahman Sesay, the Director General of the National Aids Secretariat (NAS) in Sierra Leone, disclosed a concerning statistic, stating that seventy-six thousand Sierra Leoneans are currently living with HIV and AIDS.
Highlighting the gravity of the situation on the eve of the annual HIV Day commemoration, Sesay emphasized a prevalence rate of 1.7 percent, affecting primarily individuals aged fifteen to forty-nine.
Sesay stated, “These are the prevalence rates that we derive from the demographic and health survey, and this is the prevalence rate that we have been going with until they conduct a new prevalence study.”
Further detailing the demographics, Sesay identified key populations facing a higher prevalence rate. Female sex workers accounted for 11.8 percent, homosexuals 3.2 percent, people injecting drugs 4.2 percent, and the prison population 3.7 percent. Notably, Sesay pointed out that women are more affected by HIV than men, with a prevalence rate of 2.2 percent for females compared to 1.1 percent for males.
Contrary to fears of an escalating crisis, Sesay clarified, “The numbers of HIV patients have not been increasing.”
He assured that over sixty thousand HIV patients are receiving treatment, underscoring the importance of including all seventy-six thousand Sierra Leoneans living with HIV/AIDS in the treatment program.
Sesay expressed optimism about progress, stating that the virus is slowing in terms of infection rate, with patients living longer as the country moves towards epidemic control. He acknowledged the need to shift the focus from an adult-centric response to include children living with HIV as a “prioritized population.”
Addressing the persistent issue of stigmatization, Sesay revealed ongoing efforts to establish an Equality Court in collaboration with the Judiciary of Sierra Leone. This court aims to combat stigmatization and discrimination against persons living with HIV, providing legal recourse for any form of discrimination.
Sesay highlighted the significance of financial support, stating that the National Commission for Social Action is working on a cash transfer project to benefit HIV patients. However, he acknowledged potential disruptions to the celebration of World AIDS Day in Sierra Leone due to the current security situation, emphasizing the need to reassess the feasibility of the event.