Leone has been the ground for extreme violence and displacement
on a massive scale for more than eleven years, after
a series of coups by rebel faction groups and subsequent
repression by the Government. Rape, torture, killing
and maiming were routine occurrences in the capital city,
Freetown. The violence was gradually brought to a lull
through a UN mediated dialogue between
the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Government.
However, the chaos left behind following the war was
a fertile breeding ground for the spread of HIV/AIDS,
especially among soldiers and peacekeeping forces. HIV
prevention is not yet a standard part of all humanitarian interventions and
that many vulnerable populations are difficult to reach due to the lack of
infrastructure and health systems in crisis-affected countries.
Offering testimony about his work in war-torn Sierra
Leone, Dr. Mamadou Diallo, the UNFPA Sierra Leone representative,
said that a prevalence survey conducted recently by the
U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has found HIV
in 4.9 per cent of people of reproductive age,
just as the country is emerging from a decade-long conflict. "The
country is on the brink of a full-blown epidemic, denoted
by 5 per cent infected," said Dr. Diallo. He pointed
out that the war had been one of the most brutal on the
planet, with the warring factions employing large-scale
rape and abduction of women and girls as a weapon of
war as well as amputation of limbs by machete. An exodus
of skilled health workers has exacerbated the impact. "Nothing
is left standing in Sierra Leone except hope," Dr.
Diallo said. The war has destroyed the basic infrastructure
in the country and there is no such thing as a health
care system. At the same time, thousands, possibly tens
of thousands of girls and women were abducted and raped
during the war, and many end up in big towns as commercial
sex workers," Diallo said.
UNFPA and other UN agencies and NGO partners are working
in Sierra Leone to provide life-saving information, services
and skills to three vulnerable groups: girls and women
who were abducted and raped during the conflict, war
affected youth, and UN peacekeepers and uniformed personnel.
The programmes are limited to the Capital Freetown but
the government would like to expand them to all major
towns. In particular, UNFPA is supporting a local NGO,
called "Women in Crisis", that is helping women
and girls who have been forced into the sex trade. The
group has set up two shelters where women and girls learn
how to protect themselves against HIV and how to
earn a living through income-generation activities. Hopefully,
these skills will enable them to turn their situation
around and will empower them to build a better life.