The strategy
The strategy

Breaking barriers: Ending HIV epidemic with UN 95-95-95 strategy

As a health communication researcher with research interests in health campaigns, I feel deeply concerned about the recent hike in HIV cases in Ghana.

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I wonder why our country at this crucial time should be recording such huge numbers daily.

The obvious reason, I believe, is the low level of education and sensitisation. I know issues related to sex are heavily policed in most part of Ghana, but it is about time we faced the reality and deal with it, if we want to make headway.

Adopting the UN 95-95-95 strategy is crucial for Ghana in its fight against HIV/AIDS. The strategy aims for 95 per cent of people living with HIV to know their status, 95 per cent of those diagnosed to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95 per cent of those receiving ART to achieve viral suppression.

Quite a lot of people are afraid to get tested because of the stigma associated with knowing one’s status.

The sad reality is, if we do not test, we never get to know we have it. Another sad reality is, whether you are afraid to test or not, if you have it, it will eventually break you down one day.

Unfortunately, God forgives, but the virus just as any other virus, does not forgive.

We need to break down the barriers of stigma, judgement, and name-calling that prevent people from seeking the help they need and rather foster an environment of compassion and understanding to make significant strides in combating this epidemic. 

Test

Any sexually active person can contract HIV. Few times I have heard people say, they do not see the need to test because they have always been with a single sex partner. While I applaud them for their sincerity and faithfulness, I also remind them that since their partners are not in their pockets, they should not be so convinced. Another reason why regular testing is key is because HIV is not only transmitted through sex.  

Countries such as Switzerland and the United Kingdom have demonstrated remarkable progress in managing HIV by adopting these strategies.

In Switzerland, the "Swiss Statement" has proven that individuals on effective ART with undetectable viral loads do not transmit the virus to their sexual partners. The UK has been able to achieve a 73 per cent decline in new HIV diagnoses among the most vulnerable and at high-risk population, thanks to increased testing, the availability of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis taken before any unprotected sexual encounter), PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis, taken 72 hours after a possible exposure to the virus) and effective ART.

While PrEP has been considered by some conservatists and religious groups as a promiscuous pill, its potency in reducing the spread of HIV is accurate.

Getting on Anti-Retroviral Treatments as quickly as possible if you test positive will not only give you a healthy life but will also prevent you from transmitting the virus to your sex partner even in a condomless encounter.

This is factual, tested, and proven. There are thousands of serodiscordent couples (an HIV negative and positive couple) around the world who have kids with no transmission either to the negative partner or to the kids.

Often when you educate people on these facts, they say ‘stop saying these otherwise you make it look like its normal to have it”. This is very ridiculous to say the least. No disease is normal or should be considered attractive.

Letting people know their options to stay healthy and safe has nothing to do with encouraging people to fall sick. I will be surprised if someone decides to deliberately look for HIV just because there is an effective treatment or a cure.  

Engagement

Community engagement is also a vital strategy in preventing HIV in Ghana, as it fosters local ownership, promotes culturally appropriate interventions, and enhances the effectiveness of health programmes.

Involving community leaders, religious figures and local organisations, health initiatives can gain trust and credibility, which will make it easier to disseminate accurate information about HIV prevention and treatment. 

Importantly, community-driven approaches can identify and address specific local challenges, ensuring that interventions are tailored to meet the unique needs of different populations and transform passive recipients of health services into active participants, fostering a collective effort to combat HIV and promoting sustainable, long-term health outcomes.

We must learn from the global success stories of other countries and implement similar strategies in Ghana.

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By breaking the barriers of stigma and discrimination, increasing awareness, and expanding access to prevention and treatment, we can make substantial progress in controlling and eventually eliminating HIV in our country.

This is doable. Together, we can change the narrative around HIV in Ghana, ensuring health and dignity for all.

The writer is a Health Communication Researcher,
University of Kentucky, USA.
E-mail: [email protected]

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