Saturday, November 19, 2011


Dear Mamadou Edrisa Njie,

Thank you for your prompt response! I am Mohammed Barry a Gambian living with HIV and I want to bring to light the plight of people living with HIV to face of presidential aspirants in the forthcoming presidential elections in the Gambia. 
Please do find the article attached for your due consideration and please do not hesitate to let me know when you will publish it. 

Around World AIDS Day, I will write you an article to the Gambian community on my experiences of living with HIV for almost 14 years to bring a human and common Gambian face to the struggles and plights associated with the AIDS pandemic. 

The article attached is mainly targeting the forthcoming presidential elections and please do let me know if you need more articles on HIV and AIDS with regards to the forthcoming World AIDS Day commemoration as well in the Gambia. 

Thank you and I look forward to partnering with your paper on creating an AIDS awareness/ human rights/policy related column for public readership as well. Below is the full text of the release:
Dear Presidential Aspirants;   
Less than a week ago, I read about the hopeful promises and buoyant contributions the various presidential aspirants seek to inject into the Gambian populace after the November 24th 2011 elections, thus I must say, it is indeed commendable! Yet in the context of an election month, I write to ask you my solicitous leaders, and the fortunate few; to stand boldly and both financially and politically lift the shroud of silence which has been draped over the issue of HIV and AIDS in the Gambia; cognisant that HIV is not an outlandish menace but undeniably a political, economic, social, and human dignity peril, that continue to litter its pathways with bodies of children, youth and women. Thus, this can be achieved through evidence based prevention, treatment and long term sustainable care and support services vi public, donor and private partnership cognisant of the fact that 2% of Gambians live with HIV like me.  
Firstly, my plea to you my countrymen; is not only to promise the nation economic, social or technological advancements but to tackle the issues that make, Gambians like you and I vulnerable to HIV infections on a daily basis. The policies that subjugate women and girls, the bottlenecks that make children born with HIV in the face of Nevarapine, the policies that make minority communities vulnerable and in the areas of financial elapses that make a lot of Gambians exposed to the AIDS virus. I must iterate; if we are to champion the response and bring an ultimate end to the AIDS epidemic, the response must be funded sufficiently from public health angles, donor angles and the private sector angles. Hence, making it a public concern, championed your highest political office once more to make it work during and after the elections. I must say loudly and boldly that HIV is not a distant threat; it is a present danger that needs both your renewed political, and policy/financial backings in order to successfully create a nation free of AIDS. Include HIV related policies in your manifestos!
Secondly, a few months ago, a publicly funded scientific research in the United States of America  backed by the World Health Organisation, manifested the efficacy of rolling-out HIV treatment to all eligible patients; with a CD4 counts less than 350counts, can be completely game-changing in the face of the response. Thus if you put everyone In need of HIV lifesaving treatment you can prevent HIV transmission in discordant-couples by approximately 96%, however, accessing HIV treatment services continue to be a problem for many people in the Gambia despite continuous community efforts. Get me very clear, am not  saying that the people advancing the response are unable to administer treatment to those in need, but public policies related obstacles continue to thwart a lot of communities from accessing HIV lifesaving drugs as prescribed our national health policy and over shadowed by our constitution. In addition, the simple fact that people will have to take HIV medications for the rest of their lives; needs much of a public health approach towards to sustaining treatment for these tax-payers on HIV treatment. Which again hires a public, private and donor approach towards financing this crucial aspect of the response, because with treatment we prevent innocent babies from been born with HIV, we save mothers and keep the youths of our populace productive and economically active. 
Thirdly, we cannot ignore the plights of innocent orphans and vulnerable children spread across the nation from tiny hamlets to big towns, as well as the approximately 18,000 Gambians living with HIV like me, some of whom have been out capacity to cater for their families. I once more implore you; my countrymen to create a public package that will provide long term sustainable care and support programs to cater for these Gambians to compliment donor aid and bring forth the private sector support as well. Please note; people living with HIV do not deserve political judgement or benefit from cruelty or isolation, because we have not gone into some alien-being and are still people contributing to the economy across the nation. And it is our moral obligation to ask you; our countrymen to be steadfast and improve where there are lapses. Hence at the end of the day we are the ones feeling the plight of the epidemic across, I ask you to act articulately towards bringing a complete reversal of the epidemic by 2015 inline with the Millennium Development Goals Six. 
Lastly, even though I live with HIV for close to 14years today, my family has refused to be broken and have helped carry me over the hardest places. I am blessed, richly and deeply blessed, to have such a family. But not all Gambians have been so blessed. You are HIV-positive but dare not say it. You have lost loved ones, but you dared not whisper the word AIDS. You weep silently; you grieve alone. I have a message for you: It is not you who should feel shame, it is we! We who tolerate ignorance and practice prejudice, we who have taught you to fear and grace bitter days. To those of you who are strong and in positions of influence; I issue this plea: Set aside prejudice and politics to make room for compassion and sound policies that will ultimately end the epidemic. To those of you reading this letter in your quite homes; I ask you to act as eloquent as you speak, because we do no good to the public cause if we praise the Gambian family and ignore the virus that destroys it. Again we cannot love justice and ignore prejudice, love our children and fail to secure their future without AIDS. Therefore, whatever our roles are as parents, businessmen, advocates, politicians, leaders or youths; we must act as fluent as we speak else-we have no veracity.
In conclusion, my call to the nation; specifically my countrymen is for a joint public AIDS fund backed by policy reforms, leadership and political commitments towards addressing the shroud of silence draped over the issue of AIDS in the Gambia. To my countrymen, please stand no less compassionate than that of the past and backed by an absolutely solemn, private sector and donor commitment towards ending AIDS in the Gambia. Remember the votes of people living with HIV in the Gambia reflect hence include us and will act gracefully in the polls and in the coming years.                                                                                                                                                                  
Thank you. And I believe you will heed this plea to the nation.
Mohammed Barry 

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