Accra, Nov. 2, GNA - Vice President Aliu Mahama on Tuesday called on women organisations to vigorously undertake activities that would empower women to protect themselves in order to avoid being infected with HIV/AIDS. He said HIV Sentinel Surveys conducted by the Ministry of Health indicated a 50 per cent increase of the prevalence rate from 2.3 per cent in 2001 to 3.6 per cent in 2003, with 63 per cent being women and girls.
The Vice President said this in a speech read for him by Professor Fred Sai, Presidential Advisor on HIV/AIDS, at the launch of this year's World AIDS Day celebration.
Activities for the celebration under the theme, "Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS" include discussions, debates and voluntary counselling and testing, to be climaxed on December 1, 2004.
Vice President Aliu Mahama said women organisations had the responsibility to provide leadership and assist women to have fulfilling, safe and non-exploitative sexual relation. They should therefore, collaborate with the Ghana AIDS Commission in that endeavour. He said the celebration must serve as a reminder that the world was confronted with a catastrophic developmental crisis never witnessed in human history necessitating a redoubling of the country's efforts to fight the menace.
Vice President Aliu Mahama said there were eight towns of the country where the prevalent rate was more than five per cent, the internationally accepted limit beyond which the increase assumes serious epidemic proportions.
He said over 60 per cent of people living with the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa were women, adding that young women between 15 to 24 years were two-and-a-half times more likely to be infected than young men.
Vice President Mahama said discrimination, gender inequalities, lower educational status, economic dependence on men and formidable cultural and social norms made it difficult for women to refuse or negotiate for safer sex thereby getting exposed to the risk of HIV/AIDS. He said the "ABC" slogan of Abstinence, Being Faithful and Consistent use of condom could not make the necessary impact due to the widespread sexual violence against women.
He said formal education was one of the key defences against the spread of the disease and there was the need for a multi-pronged strategy which would boost girls' access to education and strengthen legal protection for women's rights.
Vice President Aliu said it was widely known that men were the drivers of the epidemic and urged them to declare zero tolerance for violence against women, be committed to the education of their daughters and support the family.
Professor Sekyi Awuku Amoah, Director of the Ghana Aids Commission, said low education, poverty and bad cultural practices especially the inheritance system had affected women and girls making them prone to the disease.
He said the Commission would work to redress gender inequalities, improve access to care for women and girls and raise awareness about the AIDS-related care burden that was usually shouldered by women and children.