The Sierra Leone Web


Statement by the President
H. E. Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
at the official launching of
The Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Response Project (SHARP)
Aberdeen, Freetown 10 December 2002


I am honoured to be here today to take part in our country's response strategy to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The story of AIDS is about people. It is about people whose stories may be filled with pain, people who are making a life for themselves.

We are now reasonably familiar with the alarming spread of this disease and its debilitating impact on the lives of communities throughout the world. We are just as familiar with the profound negative impact of the disease on the general development prospects, particularly of Africa, and indeed Sierra Leone.

The statistics of those infected with Aids in the entire world, Africa and Sierra Leone, make depressing reading. It is by common consent that unless the world acts fast and responsibly to arrest this situation, mankind may face the worst calamity in the history of human civilization.

It is therefore gratifying that amidst the flurry of scientific initiatives that have emerged over the years in search of a cure for the disease, parallel political responses are being developed at the highest levels in capitals, and in the executive suites of multilateral institutions. It is in this regard that the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, adopted at the last UN Special Session, assumes special significance, together with the World Bank supported "Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Response Project (SHARP)" that we are launching here today.

Let me at this juncture recognize the presence of the Vice-President of the World Bank to the Africa Region, Mr. Callisto Madavo and his team who symbolize the commitment of the World Bank, and indeed its President, Mr. James Wolfensen to the total and speedy eradication of this scourge. Sierra Leone salutes you and extends boundless gratitude to you and the great institution you represent.

This project and the resources that come with it will enable us to develop the appropriate institutional and management capacity to address the varied and complex aspects of the disease, particularly those relating to awareness raising, prevention, stigmatization and access to care and treatment.

In this connection, let me pay tribute to the HIV/AIDS Secretariat, under the leadership of Professor Sidi Alghali. It is the responsibility of this Secretariat to give effect to national policies that are being developed to combat this menace. I am deeply impressed by the wide array of Sierra Leonean talents that staffs the Secretariat, and I have every confidence that they will acquit themselves well.

While I have no doubt that the focus of the Secretariat will be comprehensive, I should mention that for a country like ours greater emphasis may need to be assigned to prevention, not only because of the uncertainty of finding a cure for the disease, but also because of the prohibitive cost of such a cure where it exists. But more importantly, prevention can quickly arrest the spread of the disease and mitigate its effects on our society. As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure.

I should also like to highlight the need to reflect on what is certainly one of the most unpleasant legacies of the eleven years of rebel war that we have just gone through. During this period rampant drug abuse and the rape of women became part of the popular culture among certain groups. The war, therefore, certainly contributed significantly to the HIV/AIDS problem that confronts us today as a nation.

In conclusion, let me also observe that in general the youth, who constitute the most sexually active group in society, are correspondingly the most vulnerable. And in the light of the changing pattern of infection in Africa where the infection rate of 55 per cent among women, has overtaken the rate among men, the increase in the number of female sex workers in our society raises serious concerns that we have to confront urgently. I trust that we will sufficiently rise to this and related challenges with the support of the donor community, including the United Nations system, other multilateral agencies, friendly countries, the local and international NGOs, and citizens of this nation.

It is now my duty to launch the SHARP project.

I thank you.