Accra, June 9, GNA – Vice President John Mahama Dramani says Ghana has made modest achievements in the war against HIV and AIDS but identified men who have sex with men as one of the new challenges it faces.
He notes that Ghana is among the 29 African countries reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have been able to reduce prevalence of HIV/AIDS over the past decade.
“The national HIV prevalence has declined over the past eight years from a national high of 3.6% in 2003 to 1.5% in 2010. Prevalence among persons 15-24 years has equally reduced from 3.5% in 2003 to 1.5% in 2010,” says Vice President Mahama in a speech on Wednesday at the High Level Plenary meeting in AIDS at the 65th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.
According to the Vice President, HIV/AIDS is a visible and key component of the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (2010-2016) and is accorded a High Level of Political commitment and leadership with the Ghana AIDS Commission placed directly under the Office of the President.
The country's modest achievements are attributable largely to a massive scale-up under the programme dubbed “Towards Universal Access- Ghana's Comprehensive Antiretroviral therapy plan.”
“But there are new challenges. Statistics on MSM (Men who have sex with Men) are unreliable or generally unavailable.
“Cultural hostility to this group makes most unwilling to disclose this sexual orientation. But rough estimates put prevalence in this group at also about 25 per cent.”
Vice President Mahama notes that this is much higher than the national average and “we need to deal with it especially because it is estimated that 65 per cent of MSM are bisexual, and could create multidirectional spread”.
The implementation of the comprehensive antiretroviral plan, the Vice president notes, has resulted in the number of persons on antiretroviral therapy increasing from under 6,000 in 2006 to over 58,000 by March 2011.
Ghana also calls for prevention to remain the mainstay of the fight against HIV especially zero transmission to children.
According to him, Ghana has developed a new five-year PMTCT scale up plan using the four-prong approach and the new WHO guidelines for preventing mother to child transmission (PMTCT) and it is aimed at reaching 95 per cent of all pregnant women by 2013.
Meanwhile, Ghana remains an active participant in the UNAIDS Global Task Team on Zero transmission of new infections in children and Vice President Mahama commended UNAIDS and the US government for this bold initiative.
He also commended civil society and community-based organisations for being remarkable in the national response, adding that People Living with HIV/AIDS Associations are active members of the various subcommittees and working groups in the national response.
Vice President Mahama said Ghana recognized that the main challenge in the fight against HIV/AIDS globally was how to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support, and to ensuring zero transmission of new HIV infections in children, all by the year 2015.
To be able to achieve these laudable goals, especially for us in sub-Saharan Africa, there is the need to invest in improving our weak health systems.
“The inadequate number of healthcare facilities in many of our countries is major issues of concern. The rural poor living in remote areas and the poor in our peri-urban slums are the most vulnerable to HIV infections and they are also the ones without access to treatment and care.”
Vice President Mahama says the goal of universal access to prevention, treatment care and support and to ensuring zero transmission of HIV in children by 2015 might appear to be a daunting task, it was achievable.
He points out that the driving force for realization of this goal will be the mobilization of resources for implementation and called on all developing countries to increase domestic funding for implementation, as a basis for calling on development partners to assist with the needed resources.
“The Government of Ghana in the face of stiff competition for scarce budgetary resources has committed 0 million to finance the implementation of the new national response.”
Just before leaving Accra for New York, I on behalf of the President chaired a meeting of the Ghana AIDS Commission with our International HIV/ AIDS partners.
Vice President Mahama cautions that there is a discernible sense of donor fatigue among the partners “but we can't let our guard down. We can't slacken our effort at this time”.
He thanked donor partners for the immense support they have extended in achieving the success we have made in rolling back the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Vice President Mahama particularly expressed appreciation to the Global Fund, the US government through PEPFAR, the Danish government through DANIDA and the German government through GIZ for the tremendous assistance they have extended and continue to extend to Ghana's National Response.
“We eradicated small pox. We have made significant progress in the fight to eradicate Polio. In Ghana, we have reduced incidence of malaria in selected pilot districts by as much as 70% by distributing bed nets and residual spraying. We can beat HIV and AIDS. But we can do this only if we continue to act together and prioritize HIV and AIDS as a major health threat to our global survival.”