FEATURED: The Bushy Roads In The City Of Accra: Who Is Sleeping On The Job?...

27.11.2008 Feature Article

PLHIV still on a narrow edge… As victims still stigmatized

Sometimes, no matter how careful one is, mistakes are bound to happen, sometimes certain things one least expects in one's life tends to happen within the blink of an eye. A saying in one of the Ghanaian language translates that, if one will be entangled in another man's web, it would be because of sickness or disease.

This saying, with a doubt, is a truism. Being infected by a disease makes one restless, weak and unable to support one's self, hence giving your fellow man the upper hand. However, the infected person would have the hope that the disease would be cured in no time, but what about HIV/AIDS.

The majority of people infected consider themselves to be at the end of the road in life.

HIV/AIDS and society

HIV/AIDS is one of the most dreadful diseases ever discovered by man. Owing to it not having a cure, people have put a lot of meanings into why it is incurable. According to the superstitious, the disease is as a result of a curse or extremely bad behaviour.

Other people also say it is a punishment from God, for those who have indiscriminate sex without protection, wherever they find themselves. In many parts of Ghana and in the world, people with AIDS are always being stigmatised.

Medical interventions to educate the public on how to treat People Living with HIV (PLHIV), and erase the perception that HIV/AIDS can be contacted through mere physical contact, have proven futile.

The Deputy Minister of Health, Mrs. Gladys Ashitey, realising how awful PLHIV are treated, gave an indication that the need to formulate appropriate legislation to protect the infected from stigma and discrimination cannot be over-emphasised. According to her, there was the need to continue to introduce measures for improving access to care for the infected, and increase awareness about AIDS-related care, which is usually shouldered by women, girls and the aged.

According to her, the media was not sustaining an interest in HIV, and that there was the need to address the issue, and remind themselves that being silent on HIV was not the best way to sustain the aggressive drive and momentum, that the fight against such an epidemic requires.

She explained that one major challenge to the national response was the uptake of HIV-related services, especially counselling, since testing services have indicated that less than 10% of Ghanaians know their HIV status. She also suggested that people should volunteer and go round the homes and communities educating families and residents on how to relate to those with the dreaded disease.

“Leadership by personal example is particularly needed in working towards reducing stigma and discrimination against PLHIV,” she said.

According to her, this was the gateway to care and treatment, as well as for HIV prevention, especially among those tested positive.

HIV/AIDS situation in Ghana

The Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa, mentioned that regardless of the fact that Ghana's HIV prevalence rate was one of the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, the government continued to give considerable attention to addressing the pandemic.

This is in recognition of the fact that it is a major public health challenge with ravaging effects on household vulnerability and poverty, was and a major impediment to national development effort. According to him, over the past six years, strategic intervention activities had been undertaken by the Ghana AIDS Commission and its stakeholders, aimed at dealing with the pandemic. Its related issues include the creation of a high level of awareness, providing counselling, care and support for PLHIV, supporting orphans and venerable children, promoting abstinence among the youth, as well as promoting safe sex among adults.

“The critical issue of stigma and discrimination against PLHIV is being given serious attention, but still remains one of the major challenges to the national response.”

He indicated that despite achievements made to date, they were conscious of the fact that they had not achieved much in behavioural change that would bring about a significant reduction in the current prevalence rate. This, he said, was of major concern to all those championing the national campaign. He continued that in order to upscale their national response to achieve change, the GAC was sponsoring a countrywide 'Know your status' campaign initiated by the Ministry of Health, with the continued support of their development partners and the Ghana government.

HIV/AIDS and the media

The media has always being known as the main transferors and propagators of messages as well as the mediators between the public and a source of a message. Most times the any information given by the media to the public is perceived to be the truth.

According to the President of the League of HIV/AIDS Reporters, Ghana, Mr. Ato Amoaning-Annan, stigmatisation of PLHIV sometimes has led to some of them even losing the will to live, therefore it was important for the media to avoid sensationalism, because it must be clear by now that sensational coverage of HIV and AIDS is damaging and unnecessary, and that it impedes efforts at preventing infections, care and support for people living with the epidemic.

In as much as PLHIVs deserve honour, privacy and confidentiality from the media, it is also important to make the interviewees aware of the possible consequences of revealing their identities, and must be approached with care and tact. Brief interviewees before and let them prepare for the interview.

Those afraid of speaking with journalists may be approached through a safe intermediary, and must be given ample time to prepare for the interview, which must be brief. There is the need to empower the infected, and not present them as victims.

He further said that the media must avoid portraying persons infected by HIV as irresponsible, as it is often untrue and avoid portraying them as victims.

Compassion as well as support is needed from journalists, and not sympathy, since PLHIVs need and deserve care and compassion, not sympathy or pity.

HIV/AIDS vaccine Medical experts concluding that the disease has no cure, have come out with remedies in the form of vaccines. The Encarta Dictionary defines vaccine as a preparation containing weakened or dead microbes, of the kind that cause a disease, administered to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against that disease. According to AIDS Vaccine Initiative International (IAVI), scientists will work together with partners to compare, prioritise and advance promising AIDS vaccine strategies, with the ultimate goal of ending the global AIDS epidemic, through an effective vaccine, accessible to all.

To them, even partially effective vaccines could make a difference, by protecting some vaccinated individuals against HIV infection, reducing the probability that a vaccinated individual, who later becomes infected, would transmit the infection to others, or slow the rate of progression to AIDS for those who later become infected with HIV. IAVI estimates that – even assuming that other programs for treatment and prevention have been scaled up – an HIV vaccine could substantially alter the course of the AIDS pandemic, and reduce the number of newly-infected people, even if vaccine efficacy and population coverage levels are relatively low. Conclusion

PLHIV ought to be supported to help them overcome their plight, and makes them feel welcome and a part of society.

Who knows, humans are allergic to mistakes, one can be a victim whenever the occasion calls for it.

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2008

The author has 68 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: TheChronicle

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.