Feature story

Expanding HIV services in post-conflict Liberia

20 October 2010

Photo: UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium and mother of triplets at JFK hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Credit: UNAIDS

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and UNAIDS and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium, wrapped up a joint three-day mission to Liberia, which as a post-conflict country is working to expand its HIV services.

“It is a critical moment for Liberia. If we join together we can put the brakes on new HIV infections,” said Mr Sidibé. “But if we miss this opportunity the AIDS epidemic could regain momentum and more lives will be lost.”

During their trip, Mr Sidibé and HRH Princess Mathilde visited several health and educational facilities which are leading the way in the country’s re-energized AIDS response.

It is a critical moment for Liberia. If we join together we can put the brakes on new HIV infections

Michel Sidibé, UNIADS Executive Director

One site they visited was the JFK Hospital which is located in the capital city of Monrovia and offers a range of integrated HIV and maternal health services. It provides antenatal care to approximately 50 pregnant women each month, including voluntary HIV testing and counselling and services to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. On average, about 200 people visit the hospital’s antiretroviral therapy clinic every week for treatment and care.

Challenges of delivering HIV services in rural settings

As well as visiting hospitals in the capital, the group also paid a visit to the Phebe Hospital, a rural health facility located in the central Liberian county of Bong that provides a range of health services to around 329 000 people in four different counties. It is considered a leading provider of HIV services including antiretroviral treatment, voluntary HIV testing and counselling, PMTCT services and treatment for tuberculosis. A total of 67 people living with HIV are receiving services and 35 are on treatment.

Education is a key issue; boys and girls should be educated to show respect for one another.

HRH Princess Mathilde

However rural health facilities often face particular problems in delivering health services. For example two weeks ago the machine measuring CD4 counts, which helps monitor the progress of the virus, broke down and the hospital is unsure of when it can be fixed.

“We face many challenges. We have problems with follow up and we lose about a fifth of people who test HIV positive,” said Dr Garfee Williams, the Medical Director of Phebe Hospital. “This is due to many reasons—there are of course problems of discrimination – but also a lack of resources. We just don’t have the staff to go out into communities and provide the necessary care.”

Liberia has a generalised AIDS epidemic and latest data shows that there were around 35 000 people living with HIV at the end of 2007 and 2 300 people died of an AIDS-related illness in the same year.