HIV/AIDS Fight: Caregivers Urged to Lead Campaign Against Stigmatization

As part of efforts aimed at achieving a zero HIV/AIDS infected generation in Ghana, medical professionals have been charged to lead the campaign against stigmatization and discrimination in their work circles.

This is the call coming in from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which was launched in 2003 by President George Walker Bush to specifically address the challenge of HIV/AIDS generally across Africa.

According to a baseline survey conducted in 20 health facilities across 5 regions in Ghana where by PEPFAR operates; it came to light that, aside communities stigmatizing against persons living with HIV (PLHIV), primary caregivers are now also complicit in this development.

These caregivers involved persons at the various record departments, lab technicians, nurses, medical superintendents, pharmacists, doctors and even hospital security personnel.

To this end, PEPFAR is reaching out to professionals in the medical field to be self-aware of their actions and inaction which ultimately amount to stigmatization.

Statistics from the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) indicate that the HIV prevalence in the Ghanaian youth below age 24, rose to about 45 per cent in 2017.

Addressing a gathering of caregivers at the Suntreso Government Hospital on Thursday, PEPFAR Media Specialist at the US Embassy Ghana, Dzid Enyonam Kwame mentioned that through the strategies implemented by her outfit and also their collaborations with institutions including the Ghana AIDS Commission, John Snow Incorporated (JSI), health centres among others, HIV infections can now be likened to a condition because the infected persons are now living longer; as they stick to their anti-retroviral therapy (ART).

Currently celebrating 15 years of existence globally and also its tenth year in Ghana, PEPFAR remains “the most effective and efficient US foreign assistance program using the latest data” to make giant strides and impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“When we talk about caregivers, you are important to this campaign because mostly you’re the first point of contact for anyone who comes to test, anyone who comes to do his or her lab, for the person to even to be put on treatment”. So we’re here basically to carry out a mini-stigma and discrimination campaign as PEPFAR celebrates 15 years of operations globally and a decade in Ghana.”

“Every year Ghana gets an amount of money to help with the national response. We’re hoping that in the next couple of years, we will be able to reach an HIV free generation because now a lot more people are living longer and very few people get to the stage where they have full blown AIDS”, Madam Enyonam Kwame stated.

She said “PEPFAR has saved lives since it was launched in 2003. It has improved lives, it has transformed the global HIV/AIDS response and it is by far the largest commitment ever by any nation to address a single disease in history.”

Globally through the interventions by PEPFAR, more than 16 million lives were saved as at March 30, 2018, also 14 million men, women and children were put on anti-retroviral therapy and 2.2 million babies born HIV-free to HIV-positive mothers by September 30, 2017.

On her part, Program Management Specialist for PEPFAR, USAID, Nadia Tagoe further emphasized how stigmatization can derail the global goal of ensuring an HIV-free world.

“For stigmatization and discrimination we all know it’s a crosscutting issue and it actually affects our overall goal.”

“Sometimes we don’t see how little things actually go a long way to affect people’s behavior and can have a negative health impact or an outcome we’re not expecting to have.”

Ms. Tagoe admonished caregivers to find more innovative ways of engaging clients in a safer and secured manner and also reiterated PEPFAR’s commitment to partner with all stakeholders to achieve the desired purpose.

She added that “in Ghana 4 agencies constitute the PEPFAR team and they include the Department of State, the Department of Defence, CDC and USAID. Each agency does stigma intervention but for USAID we work more with health facilities.”

Other dignitaries present at the event were the Press Attaché at the US Embassy, Ghana, Naomi Mattos who launched the Anti-Stigma and Discrimination Campaign, Joyce Asiedu of the Public Affairs Section, US Embassy, Ghana, Heart-to-Heart Ambassadors Reverend John Azumah and Gifty Torkonu, Technical Co-ordinator at the Ghana AIDS Commission, Olivia Graham, HIV/AIDS Focal Person and Medical Superintendent of the Suntreso Government Hospital, Dr Thomas Agyarko Poku, representatives from the John Snow Incorporated (JSI) and Suntreso STI Pharmacist, Augustina Adomah Agyei and Listowell Yesu Bukarson.

By: Ghana/ Ama Bonsu