Authorities in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, in northwestern Somalia, launched a national HIV/AIDS commission on Thursday which will plan and coordinate multisectoral efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic in the region.
The commission would also design strategies for providing affordable and effective drugs to those living with HIV/AIDS.
"It's real that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is in the country and already contributing to increased mortality, morbidity, fear, family disintegration, orphans, stigma and discrimination in our society," Somaliland's President Dahir Riyale Kahin said during the launch of the commission in Hargeysa, Somaliland's capital.
"Denial of the disease serves as a negative fuelling factor of the epidemic and creates an environment of more stigma and discrimination in society," Kahin added.
Religious leaders, women’s organisations, youth groups and UN officials -- including Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF’s country representative for Somalia, and Leo Kenny, UNAIDS Somalia coordinator -- attended the function. Two HIV-positive people were also present at the launch.
Balslev-Olesen said the campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS must have the support of leaders at the highest level and commended Kahin for his initiative. He pledged that UNICEF would support the commission.
Olad Omar, who is living with the virus, urged people in Somaliland to change their "negative attitudes" towards those who are infected.
"I urge Somaliland’s president to take the lead by establishing AIDS clinics and counselling and testing centres in other regions. I also urge the rest of the population not to shun AIDS victims because that leads to stigmatisation and more suffering," Omar said.
The president, who appointed 14 members drawn from governmental and nongovernmental organisations, civil society groups, the religious sector and the HIV-positive community, will chair the National AIDS Commission. It will have a full-time secretariat headed by an executive secretary, Muse Kassim Omar.
The commission's mandate includes information dissemination, documentation, planning and monitoring and evaluation.
The spread of HIV/AIDS in Somaliland has been partly blamed on poor access to voluntary counselling services, denial, stigma and late treatment.
The prevalence rate in Somaliland among pregnant women aged 15 to 49 years is estimated at 1.4 percent. There are no precise figures on the number of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Somaliland declared itself independent from Somalia following the collapse of the regime of Muhammad Siyad Barre in 1991. The breakaway republic is not internationally recognised.
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