Professor Fred Sai, Presidential Advisor on HIV/AIDS, on Monday, called for the removal of all barriers that make women and girls vulnerable to HIV and asked men to also reduce their risky behaviours.
Prof. Sai, who was addressing a durbar to mark the World AIDS Day, on the theme; “Leadership, Reducing Stigma and Discrimination,” said the current AIDS situation calls for strong commitment and leadership by all to reduce the rate of new infections.
The durbar was organized by the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) to educate the public and create awareness on the need for all to be involved in playing leadership roles in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
It was attended by civil society organizations, Ghana’s development partners, government officials NGO’s working on HIV/AIDS, chiefs and queen mothers from the Greater Accra Region as well as organizations of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Prof. Sai said though HIV had no cure, there was some form of treatment to minimize the effect of the opportunistic infections and asked people to patronise them.
Prof. Sai regretted that more women than men continue to be infected and affected by HIV/AIDS due to negative socio-cultural norms and also due to their biological make-up, saying, “One sad consequence of pregnant women not knowing their HIV status was the resulting denial to the treatment which could prevent mother to child transmission.”
He mentioned domestic violence and other violence against women especially those that negatively affected their health and called on leaders at all levels to be up and fight for the rights of women to enable them say no to pressurized or coerced sex.
He said the reduction and control of the HIV the epidemic, could not be achieved without the removal of all those practices which make it impossible or difficult for women and girls to negotiate sex and gender relationships generally
He called for intensified education on the need for all Ghanaians to be tested for their HIV status and also to embrace those who had tested positive.
Prof. Sai said stigma and discrimination had remained a major challenge towards the fight against HIV/AIDS, saying this had led to major setbacks in successes of most programmes aimed at reducing new infections, due to negative attitudes on the part of infected persons.
“Stigma and discrimination are unfortunate realities in the lives of many persons living with HIV. It is important to note that the situation is so bad as to be preventing the free and easy access to the use of HIV related services, especially getting Ghanaians to know their HIV status,” he said.
Prof. Sai said currently, over 33 million people are living with HIV and AIDS globally, out of which Ghana has contributed 270, 000 people, with a current national prevalence rate of 1.9 percent, and an estimated number of 70 new infections daily.
He said the frightening statistics call for re-strategising and designing more friendly programmes that are attractive to draw all persons, especially the youth to test for their HIV status.
He said government would continue to provide effective leadership and adopt measures that would strengthen the role of civil society, in particular, in the national response and further support persons living with HIV/AIDS with access to Anti-Retrovirals.
“Government will also continue its support to the GAC in its core mandate of coordination and management, policy formulation and resource mobilization to ensure a multi-sectoral approach to addressing HIV/AIDS in Ghana.
Mr Daouda Toure, United Nations Country Co-ordinator, said though governments all over the world were delivering on their promises to scale up universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, there remained a lot more to be done.
He said it had been noted that “people are still being infected with HIV faster than we can get them for treatment. AIDS is still one of the top ten causes of death worldwide, and it is the number one killer in Africa”.
Mr Toure emphasized the importance of resource mobilization to provide services that would have real impact in communities and on the entire nation.
Other development partners including the United States Embassy in Ghana, UNAIDS, United Nations Development Programme and Action Aid Ghana agreed on the importance of Voluntary Counselling and Testing of HIV/AIDS and responsible leadership roles to eliminate stigma and discrimination.