By Amie Sanneh
The Deputy Regional Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for West and Central Africa, Dr. Leo Zekeng, has announced the re-opening of the UNAIDS Banjul Office yesterday, Wednesday, 10 October, 2014 at a Press briefing held at the UN House in Cape Point. He said the Banjul office has been re-opened in April this year and is now in operation.
It could be recalled that Dr. Zekeng was in Banjul last year to announce the closure of the UNAIDS Banjul Office, which was officially closed in September 2013.
Dr. Zekeng explained that few months ago they were faced with the need to re-align their resources to see where the burden of the disease is for them to focus on, then they decided to close down the UNAIDS Banjul office.
According to him, as a follow up to the closure, the Gambia Government through the Vice President met with their Executive Director in Abuja where she made “compelling cases” on the need to re-open the Banjul office. He added that among those arguing for its re-opening were the civil society organisations who also opined that the UNAIDS Banjul office has done a lot in supporting the Government in developing strategies, policies, mobilizing resources amongst others. He added that the Executive Director in Abuja then presented the request before the board and the decision was taken to re-open the Banjul office.
He said they have now completed the entire opening process and the Dakar office is on standby to support the Banjul office when the need arises. He reaffirmed UNAIDS and other development partner’s commitment and continuous support to the Gambia.
Dr. Zekeng acknowledged the progresses being made in the AIDS response in the Gambia but was quick to add that there are still challenges as they try to fast track towards ending it. He noted that the re-opening of the office is happening at a point when UNAIDS’s report for 2013 in Central and West Africa shows some progress made in the region. He further explained that the AIDS related deaths have declined from 2005 to 2013 at about 17 per cent. He said three countries in the region, The Gambia, Ghana and Burkina Faso are where they recorded a decline of over 50 per cent AIDS related deaths. According to him, the new infections have also declined by 37 per cent in West and Central Africa.
Dr. Zekeng added that more people are being put on treatment, stating that in the regions, 1.4million are on treatment, when it was only 6000 in 2003. 6.1million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Central and West Africa. 74 per cent of the 6.1 are from Nigeria, Cameroon, DRC and Cote D’ Voire. The re-opening of the Banjul office he went on also came at a time when in September during the UN General Assembly, there was a side event where commitment was renewed on all the nations to fast track progress towards ending AIDS in 2030 meaning that it will not be a public health threat anymore.
The Country Director of UNAIDS, Sira Ndow said the Deputy Director Regional Support Team for West and Central Africa is in the country to inform the relevant authorities, civil society organizations and development partners of the re-opening of the UNAIDS Banjul office which was temporarily closed due to financial constraints which the organization was facing. She said after reconsideration and intervention of the national authorities under the leadership of the Vice President of the Republic and endorsed by the President with the engagement of their Executive Director together with several other committees and boards, they approved the re-opening of the office. She said the office is now re-open and is in operation with a new team.