Ghana marks World AIDS Day with durbar in Ho

BY: Tim Dzamboe
Mrs Cecilia Abena Dapaah (inset), Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, reading the speech on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the durbar to commemorate World AIDS Day in Ho last Saturday
Mrs Cecilia Abena Dapaah (inset), Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, reading the speech on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the durbar to commemorate World AIDS Day in Ho last Saturday

The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has called on stakeholders in the health sector to work together to bring HIV infection under control.

He said that could be achieved through the successful attainment of the 90-90-90 strategy based on the principle of universal testing and treating.

He, therefore, advised members of the public to go for voluntary testing to know their HIV status, since the results of such tests could grant infected persons access to a variety of life-saving services to enable them to live healthy lives.

The President made the call in an address read on his behalf by the Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Mrs Cecilia Abena Dapaah, at a national durbar to commemorate the 30th World AIDS Day in Ho last Saturday.

The World AIDS Day, was instituted by the United Nations. This year’s celebration was on the theme: “Test, Treat to Suppress and Stop New HIV Infections”.

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90-90-90 concept

The 90-90-90 concept is a set of goals introduced by the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS in 2013.

The idea is that by 2020, 90 per cent of people who are HIV infected will be diagnosed, 90 per cent of people who are diagnosed will be on anti-retroviral treatment and 90 per cent of those who receive anti-retrovirals will be virally suppressed.

Viral suppression is when a person’s viral load — or the amount of virus in an HIV-positive person’s blood — is reduced to an undetectable level.

President Akufo-Addo said as co-Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he had resolved to champion the global campaign to end HIV/AIDS by 2030, using the 90-90-90 strategy.

He said a self-testing facility was to be introduced to bring testing opportunities to the doorstep of individuals, devoid of stigma.

High prevalence rate

The President expressed concern over the high HIV prevalence among adolescents and the youth and asked that interventions should focus on them.

Out of the 19,101 new HIV infections recorded in 2017, more than two thirds were between 15 and 24 years, he said.

In an address, the acting Director General of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), Mr Kyeremeh Atuahene, said an assessment conducted from July to October this year had indicated that the 90-90-90 strategy was attainable if treatment on anti-retroviral drugs was sustained.

Mr Atuahene said the nation could not succeed if the task was left to health delivery professionals alone and called for the services available to be scaled-up from the top to the Community Health and Planning Services (CHPS) compound level, where 30 per cent of health services were expected to be executed.

He said while the number of HIV-positive patients on drugs had increased, the attrition rate was high, partially due to false claims of cure which swayed patients form anti-retroviral drugs to traditional or herbal medicines, with some going to spiritual and religious camps.

Mr Atuahene also talked about the belief that traditional medicine had a stake in the treatment of the HIV scourge but pointed out that there was no scientific guarantee of that claim.
He emphasised that until there was scientific proof, anti-retroviral drugs remained the scientific medicine to save lives and prevent deaths.

Mr Atuahene said the GAC would collaborate with UNAIDS to mount a campaign next year, in addition to another collaboration with the First Lady, Rebecca Akuffo-Addo, on mother-to-child transmission.

UNAIDS Country Director

The UNAIDS Country Director in Ghana, Ms Angela Trenton-Mbonde, for her part, said many had died from AIDS-related illnesses because they could not access HIV prevention and treatment
services or because of stigma and discrimination, which drove them underground and prevented them from accessing life-saving HIV treatment and services.

She commended the First Lady for her leadership role as the premier ambassador for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission.

She said UNAIDS had made some progress around the globe, adding that in 2017, out of the 36.9 million people living with HIV globally, 21.7 million accessed anti-retroviral therapy with a reduction of new infections.

Ms Trenton-Mbonde said at the global level, 75 per cent of all people living with HIV, as of 2017, knew their status, while in Ghana there were 313,063 people living with HIV as of the end of 2017, with 65 per cent knowing their status.

Solidarity messages

In a solidarity message, the Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Ghana, Mr Christopher J. Lamora, said his country was ready to strengthen partnerships with Ghana to build an AIDS-free generation by 2030.

He said about 28,000 HIV-positive Ghanaians would receive treatment next year through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

For her part, the Chief Executive of Standard Bank, Ms Shola David Borha, said the fight against HIV/AIDS was a global challenge and all must join hands in the battle.

The Chinese Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Shi Ting Wang, said the fight against HIV/AIDS was a key area of Ghana-China cooperation and that China had committed $80,000 to Ghana with the hope that the fight against the disease would be surely won.

In a welcome address, the Volta Regional Minister, Dr Archibald Yao Letsa, said there was a marginal drop in new HIV infections in the region in 2017, compared to records of 2016, saying it was pertinent for the public to seek knowledge on the disease to utilise the free services available.