NAS Boss Clarifies

The management of the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) most respectfully submits a clarification on the misinformation relative to a newspaper publication carried on the Tuesday edition of the Standard Newspaper. The article, captioned “Sex workers to Get COVID-19 Funds” was misinterpreted and misconceived by the media and members of the public.

At the press briefing held last Friday, the 27th November 2020, as part of events marking the 2020 World AIDS Day, the Director of the NAS made a statement calling on all to rally global solidarity and ensure shared responsibility in the national response to HIV and AIDS in The Gambia. He also used the opportunity to highlight the current situation of HIV in The Gambia and progress made so far.

During the question and answer session, a journalist (Mafugi Ceesay) raised the question about what is being done to address the situation of HIV among sex workers in the context of COVID, particularly given the fact they have a high prevalence of HIV (11%) in The Gambia. In response to the question, the Director of the NAS made it very clear that no one is left behind in the response to HIV and AIDS and that sex workers continue to receive HIV services in the context of COVID. Such services include counselling and testing, treatment, care and support. He added that plans are in place to provide nutritional support to people living with HIV who are unstable as part of efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID on their nutritional status and that such support will cover anyone who fits the criteria, including sex workers living with HIV.

It is important to note that this is not something new in the HIV response in The Gambia. NAS used to provide nutrition support to unstable HIV patients who are on treatment to help them take their daily medication. Due to limited funding, however, such support was removed from the Global Fund grant. It is in this context that the director made mention of efforts to mobilize additional resources to help provide such support in the context of COVID.

There was no mention in the NAS Director’s statement that COVID 19 funds will be given to sex workers. The NAS is not managing any COVID 19 Funds and there are no plans to use COVID funds to support sex work or sex workers in The Gambia. It is rather unfortunate that the Director message is taken completely out of context.

The media continues to play a pivotal role in the fight against AIDS. It is often said that education is the vaccine against HIV. Many media organizations are rising to the challenge by promoting awareness of HIV and AIDS and educating people about how to prevent HIV transmission. According to national surveys conducted in The Gambia, about 53% of Gambians identified the media as their source of information about HIV. However, it is rather worrying and unfortunate that recent strategic extremism in Gambian society continues to have a persistence of misinformation in the response to HIV and AIDS, especially when such misinformation leaks out of mainstream media into cyber-ghettos.

More worrying is the fact that Gambians take advantage of such misinformation to score political points. H.E President Barrow or Government has never allocated funds to support sex work or sex workers in Gambia. It bleeds one’s heart to hear people politicizing this unfortunate situation without any attempt to verify the story. The Secretariat wishes to apologize to all who have been in one way or the other affected by this unfortunate and misguided situation. For any further clarification on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact the NAS on 4395871.

Ends

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