The workshop was meant to sensitize Members of Parliament on the Global Fund/National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) funded project which is being implemented by the Legal Aid Board. According the Ms. Calton-Hanciles, it is crucial to have the MPs on board should the project achieve the desired the results.
Highpoints of the workshop included a presentation on the legal framework for persons living with HIV/AIDS with particular focus on their rights and responsibilities by the Legal Aid Practitioner, Joel Deen-Tarawally and another on the Public Health Approaches for Key Population by Kemoh Mansaray who is Key Population Focal Person at the National AIDS Secretariat.
Mr. Deen-Tarawally in his presentation emphasized on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS as contained in the National Constitution, The Human Rights Commission Act 2004, The Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS Act 2007, The National HIV/AIDS Commission Act 2011 and the Legal Aid Act 2012. He said these persons are entitled to legal aid without any precondition on human rights grounds.
Kemoh Mansaray drew attention to the major challenges facing the Key Populations in terms of punitive laws targeting them, stigmatization, discrimination and violence in communities and healthcare settings. He advocated for resource allocation to support the national response to the disease.
Contributors to the discussion include the Speaker of Parliament; Dr. Abass Bundu said theirs is a progressive Parliament with over eighty percent new members. He noted the workshop is timely because parliament is reviewing certain laws which are outdated.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles said even though prostitution is illegal, it is troubling the police arrest only the female sex workers and not the men who pay for the service. She said people should stop pretending there are no homosexuals in the country. ‘Homosexuality is on the rise, even though it is illegal,’ she said. ‘The sooner we understand this, the better.’
The Consultant to the Legal Aid Board, Mr. Francis Gabiddon said HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. He noted that there is no law against Lesbianism in Sierra Leone. He therefore encouraged lesbians to access the healthcare facilities without fear.
The Director General of NAS, Dr. Momodu Sesay noted that his organization approaches the issue of homosexuality from a public health point of view. He said homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS are entitled to access to healthcare, counselling, treatment and justice. He added that the fight against the virus will fail if we continue to criminalize, discriminate and stigmatize those living with the disease.
The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on health, expressed concern over the failure of people to take their Retroviral Drugs. He said some have taken this decision because their status has been made public in breach of confidentiality. He added that it is troubling men are not disclosing their status to their wives or partners and some have even gone ahead to impregnate them.
Member of Parliament Catherine Zainab Tarawally suggested a change in the law that will ensure pregnant women take the HIV/AIDS test along with the husbands or partners.
The workshop was climaxed with a performance on the negative effects of stigmatization and discrimination against people living with the disease. It was observed that this is borne out of ignorance and widely held beliefs. Sensitization on the disease, the law and human rights brought about a change in attitude of the people and much needed relief for those with the disease.