By Kemo Cham
The international family planning service provider, Marie Stopes, is fighting to protect its image in Sierra Leone where it is embroiled in allegations of a major confidentiality breach.
The NGO is refuting claims that it disclosed the identity of its HIV positive clients following the publication on social media of a list of girls purported to be living with HIV virus.
Marie Stopes says the unnamed distributors of the list were merely seeking to tarnish its image in a highly conservative society where conventional family planning methods like what it provides, are frowned upon.
The document headlined: “List of girls with HIV – 1,” appears to be on a letterhead that looks like that of Marie Stopes’ and was circulated on Whatsapp.
“This list is a forgery and we condemn its creation and circulation in the strongest possible terms,” said Ufuoma Festus Omo-Obi, Country Director of Marie Stopes.
Mr Omo-Obi told journalists at a press conference that the NGO viewed the action of those behind the list as a ploy to cause emotional distress to the people named on it and to damage the organisation’s reputation.
Marie Stopes International provides contraception and safe abortion services in 37 countries around the world. The UK-headquartered NGO seeks to help women and girls to have children by choice, and not by chance.
Marie Stopes Sierra Leone, in existence since 1986, is one of the oldest programmes in the Marie Stopes International partnership. Known locally as “de mammy fo welbodi” or the mother of health, it is the largest family planning organisation in the country, with teams scattered across the country’s 14 districts. It runs multiple centers that additionally provide sexual and reproductive healthcare.
Marie Stopes was a leading sponsor of a controversial anti-abortion bill last year which failed to pass in parliament after religious leaders mounted a massive campaign against it.
In 2016 alone, the NGO recorded 309,632 people using its MSI contraceptive, according to information on its website. It also notes that there were 101,220 unintended pregnancies and 59,510 unsafe abortion prevented within the same period.
Sierra Leone, a highly conservative society, has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive intakes in the world. The country also has a very high rate of teenage pregnancy, fueled mainly by ignorance and poverty.
The National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) is one of the leading local partners of Marie Stopes Sierra Leone. The Secretariat also issued a statement condemning the publication of the list, which it described as “fictitious.”
Willful disclosure of the identity of an HIV positive person is considered a criminal offence under the National AIDS Commission Act of 2011.
“Marie Stopes Sierra Leone has been a partner to NAS for over 10 years and we still do have confidence in the quality of HIV and AIDS related services they provide,” a statement from the Director General of the NAS, Dr Momodu Sesay, says.
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