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05.11.2003 General News

Stop maltreating HIV/AIDS victims - Aliu

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Accra, Nov. 5, GNA - Vice President Aliu Mahama on Wednesday called for an end to all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, warning that 1.36 million Ghanaians could be infected if preventive actions did not succeed.

Speaking at a ceremony to kick-start activities to mark World AIDS Day, Vice President Mahama noted that stigma and discrimination were major obstacles to effective HIV/AIDS prevention and care, saying, the fight against the disease could not be won unless that stopped.

People living with the disease are reportedly turned away from health care services; denied housing and employment; shunned by their friends and colleagues; divorced by their spouses; assaulted and abused; denied insurance coverage and refused entry into some foreign countries. However, Vice President Mahama stressed that those living with the disease should enjoy the same kind of life as those unaffected and their rights to privacy and confidentiality should not be breached. It was in line with this, he said, that UNAIDS selected, "Reducing Stigmatisation and Discrimination Against People Living with HIV/AIDS, The Human Rights Factor," as the theme for the World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1.

The Vice President said: "As individuals, we can think of this year's theme and its emphasis as it applies to us in our professions, our daily lives and in our relationship with others. Among the issues we should reflect upon are privacy, not judging others, particularly, those affected by HIV/AIDS.

"Each of us can make a difference. That may be volunteering to take care of the sick or helping with an education programme. But it should start with a personal resolve not to get infected."

The results of the HIV Sentinel Surveillance in 2002, which indicated a substantial increase in the national prevalence rate from 2000 should be worrisome to all, he said, particularly when six locations recording more than five per cent because it exceeded the internationally accepted level.

Vice President Mahama, therefore, urged business concerns to invest in the preventive and management programmes to stem the disease, as its epidemic would seriously undermine productivity and economic growth.

He made a personal donation of 100 clocks with HIV/AIDS messages inscribed on them to the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) for distribution to senior secondary schools.

Professor Fred T. Sai, Presidential Adviser on HIV/AIDS, commended the Vice President's contribution to the campaign, saying it was a perfect demonstration of leadership by example.

He encouraged others to donate in cash and kind toward the cause, but said the best gesture would be to show compassion to those affected and to cater for their needs.

Prof. Sai condemned the recent criticisms in Parliament of the GAC over the use of the 25 million dollars allocated to organizations to fight the disease, saying it created an erroneous impression that the fund had been grossly misused.

He said the GAC had rather been very transparent about the disbursement of the fund, which was also not politicised as claimed, and had even exposed the few offending organisations.

Prof. Sai also criticized religious fanatics, who campaign that condoms were ineffective against HIV/AIDS infection, saying the assertion was incorrect.

"Dangerous sex life still continues while some religious extremists are using pseudo scientific messages to confuse the public and I hope this will stop. We do not ask people to forget our societal norms and cultural values and simply have sex, using condoms, we base our messages on scientific facts," he said.

"Over 50 per cent of our girls and a higher percentage of our boys have had sexual relations before the age of 18. Most of these are outside marriage and without any protection. While we preach against this behaviour and ask for a change we cannot allow those who do not change to play with their lives."

Dr Moses Mukasa, Country Representative of United Nations Population Fund, said those without the disease should consider themselves fortunate and not superior as they were also exposed to the same practices and often engaged in the activities that led to infection. "Every time you look at the face of an infected person you should think that it could have been you. The fact that you get gonorrhoea, syphilis and other STDs and you move on as if nothing has happened and that because you got treated should not make you feel like a better person and label others with HIV/AIDS. We are all in the same boat and we can sink."

A 10-year-old girl from Odumase Krobo, who has been orphaned by the disease, and a young man living with the disease shared their experiences on stigmatisation and called for more support to make them live contented and productive lives. New campaign messages were out-doored, while some songs and drama were performed to complement the speeches.

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