Ghana Makes Gains In HIV, AIDS Response But Still Faces Challenges

Ghana has been recognised globally for its relatively successful multi-sectoral response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The country has also been specifically been lauded for achieving a 76 per cent reduction in new HIV infections among children due mainly to uptake of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes. The Director General of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), Dr Angela El-Adas, made this assertion in a speech read on her behalf by Dr Joseph Amuzu, the Director of Policy and Planning, at a training session for producers of programmes in the private media in Koforidua. The training, organised by the GAC, was attended by private media programme producers from the Eastern, Volta and Ashanti regions. “Our epidemic is stabilising and we have recorded a steady decline in prevalence and in new infections across various sub-populations,” said Dr El-Adas. She stated that in the last four years, GAC and its partners had been implementing the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (2011-2015) “and in 2013 we commissioned a mid-term evaluation, the results of which have enabled us to identify areas to focus on in order to achieve our targets.” “We know that we have to find innovative ways of funding HIV activities in the face of dwindling donor commitments and increasing numbers of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV),” she said. Areas of focus Other areas of focus of GAC in recent times, she added, was to support and improve the local production of ARVs to make treatment cost-effective and achieve universal access, and also improve and scale-up services for the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission. The GAC, she added, was also working to generate improved strategic information to enhance policy, planning, programme implementation and monitoring and to intensify public education which would lead to behaviour change and reduce stigma and discrimination. Dr El-Adas noted that the dynamics of the HIV and AIDS epidemic and the sensitivities surrounding emerging issues as well as the associated stigma required that the media practitioners frequently update themselves with current information and dialogue on any gray areas. She acknowledged that the media had contributed to the attainment of GAC’s successes, but there is still a lot more to be done. “More, specifically, you as producers need to enhance knowledge in order to provide effective oversight and guidance to your presenters,” Dr El-Adas emphasised. Progress so far The Technical Manager of GAC, Dr Fred Nana Poku, who gave an overview of the national response to HIV and AIDS, said the mandate of GAC was to provide support, guidance and leadership for the national response. The progress made so far include stabilising the general epidemic with Adult National Prevalence of 1.37 per cent. AIDS-related deaths have also decreased. HIV prevalence among pregnant women has also reduced from 3.6 per cent in 2003 to 2.1 per cent in 2012, while HIV prevalence declined by more than 25 per cent between 2001 and 2012 among young people. Dr Poku said about 60 per cent of those needing Antiretroviral therapy (ART) are currently receiving services. The GAC is also grappling with challenges, Dr Poku stated, and mentioned the high HIV-related stigma and discrimination and the low in-depth knowledge of HIV transmission reflecting in high level of misconceptions, as some of the challenges. In addition, the country still relies on external funding for its response. There is also the challenge posed by populations engaging in high risk sex with multiple sexual partners. Dr Poku also noted that there were challenges with addressing vulnerability of women, achieving behaviour change at all levels and increasing coverage of ART. Issues of low condom use; low uptake of HIV Services and occasional shortages of HIV commodities also have to be dealt with. National HIV, STI policy In a presentation on the National HIV, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STI) Policy, Mr Kweku Osei, Technical Support Co-ordinator, GAC, said the policy outlined guidance on human rights, legal and ethical issues. The policy, he expanded, advocated an HIV and AIDS prevention law and information to the public about their health rights. It further recommended the use of condoms and lubricants in the prevention of HIV and STIs - that these commodities should be made affordable and accessible to members of the public, including key populations, and should be distributed widely in the public and private sectors at free or low cost and without restrictions on age or sexual behaviour. The policy emphasises that “Traditional Medical Practitioners shall be encouraged to refer PLHIV, especially those on ART and shall not advertise drugs and claim of cure for HIV as provided in the FDB LI on drugs and advertisements,” Mr Osei stressed. According to the policy, law enforcement is not an effective tool against HIV, hence instead of criminalisation and prosecutions, the policy supports appropriate referrals to treatment, care and support services and promotion of safer sex. Mr Osei urged the media to partner with GAC; it is necessary if there is to be comprehensive understanding and effective implementation of the policy. Objective of training The Communications Manager of GAC, Mrs Margaret Yamoah, said the overarching objective of the training programme was to empower producers of programmes with accurate HIV information and to build their capacity and interest in ensuring quality and accurate messages in programming. She pointed out that the media offered the ideal platform to disseminate information aimed at eliminating HIV and AIDS and “many media organisations are already promoting awareness of HIV and AIDS, and educating listeners and viewers about the facts of the epidemic, how to prevent its transmission, and living positively with HIV.” Sometimes, however, she said, terms used or statements made are inappropriate, misleading or harmful to people living with HIV and the general populace. It is, therefore, necessary for private-sector producers who set the agenda in programming in media houses to be given the right information which would give them a clear understanding of the issues and the challenges and obstacles to widespread and effective HIV-prevention education as well as issues of treatment, stigma and discrimination.