National Aids Secretariat (NAS), the institution mandated to coordinate the national HIV/AIDS response in The Gambia has disclosed that the LGBT community and female sex workers are impacted the most by the killer disease in The Gambia.
The Gambia is among the list of countries with low prevalence of the virus with a 1.7 percent adult prevalence rate (CIA Factbook), but its rate of infection continues to fluctuate over the years. Speaking on this, Ousman Badjie, Director of the NAS informed The Chronicle that:
“Basically, it is still below the general population of 2 percent in terms of National HIV prevalence. That said, the situation is more serious in certain groups of our society such as female sex workers and gays. The situation of HIV among them remains worrying. This is why I said those key populations remain the key drivers of HIV/AIDS in The Gambia.”
NAS has the responsibility of providing treatment to people living with the virus. However, Badjie said the institution is financially challenged as it is virtually relying only on Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“That forms the main funding basket for the national response to AIDS in The Gambia. The government is also contributing in terms of human resources and health facilities that we need to deliver services to those with HIV.”
NAS also provides psychosocial support to survivors due to the stigma and discrimination that is directed at them.
“We are also looking at the availability of other commodities like condoms because if you cannot abstain, we believe that there are other mechanisms or measures that one can take to be able to prevent oneself from getting infected with HIV. Unless you make them available, it is going to be difficult for people to protect themselves.”
Meanwhile, the government recently circulated a memo to health facilities asking the clinicians not to run HIV/AIDS test on volunteers due to insufficient test-kits in stock. The memo indicated that the test should be prioritized and should only be carried out on emergency situations until more supplies arrive.
“What happened was that we had a limited stock of the test-kit we use for HIV/AIDS. It’s not a complete stock-out,” Badjie reacted.
“It doesn’t mean the tests were not happening, but if you want to test a general public with a limited stock you are going to face a stock-out. That’s why we have prioritized testing for emergency situations.”
He attributed the stock-out to late shipment and also indicated that sometimes, they run out of stock if there are flight cancellations to bring the test-kits. He said data inaccuracy is another factor that delays the arrival of test kits. He said sometimes, they will use the data given to them by health facilities and based on that, they determine how much consignment they should order.
“So in planning, you rely on data to be able to form your decisions. The records the facilities give us sometimes are erroneous,” Badjie said.
This year’s commemoration of World Aids Day is focused on the “Role of Communities In Response To HIV/AIDS”.