Stigma, Fear Hampers HIV Testing, Treatment in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's government is unlikely to meet its target of treating 2,000 HIV-positive people with antiretroviral drugs by the end of the year in part because of stigma surrounding the virus, PlusNews reports. According to a national survey published this year, about 1.5% of the estimated five million people living in the country are HIV-positive, and 1,178 people currently are receiving antiretrovirals at public health clinics in the country. Stigma and fear also are hampering efforts to test people for HIV in the country, according to PlusNews. Although all district hospitals and multiple sites in the capital, Freetown, provide HIV tests at no cost, the "concept of voluntarily discovering one's HIV status is largely alien," and most people are only tested after being referred to do so by their physician, PlusNews reports. "We are trying to encourage more agencies to become involved in social marketing of HIV testing ... [a]nd if we can secure further funding from the World Bank, we would like to see a model of door-to-door mobilization, as accessibility to testing sites is still a major barrier to some districts," Brima Kargbo, director of the National AIDS Secretariat, said. Kargbo added that Sierra Leone's HIV/AIDS program was new compared with those of other countries and that the country is learning from other nations' experiences (PlusNews, 10/26).

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