Ho, Dec 02, GNA- President John Agyekum Kufuor has said the attitude of men towards sex was crucial for halting the onslaught of HIV/AIDS in Ghana.
He said men were among the primary drivers of the epidemic and must be targeted in any serious preventive strategy.
President Kufuor said this in a speech read for him at the 2004 National World Aids Day durbar held in Ho on Wednesday under the theme "Women, Girls & HIV/AIDS, Protecting Women from the Spread of HIV/AIDS". He said in sub-Saharan Africa 60 per cent of the 30 million people living with the disease were women while in Ghana out of the 720,000 cases of HIV/AIDS, about 455,000 were reported to be women.
President Kufuor said the theme was a "wakeup call for all us to act positively towards addressing the vulnerabilities of our mothers, sisters and daughters in the face of HIV/AIDS.
He said the government recognised the immense contribution of women to Ghana's socio-economic development and was actively pursuing measures to lessen their vulnerability to the pandemic.
The President said the measures include building the economic capacity of women, organising programmes to improve on their knowledge and literacy levels and the promotion of girls' education. "These aim at equipping them adequately to know their rights and roles in society and to protect themselves from the HIV/AIDS menace," President Kufuor stated.
He said women's organisations in the country and religious groups had the obligation to champion the cause of women in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"We should also encourage our women leaders to be more aggressive, develop and lead programmes and speak out boldly about HIV/AIDS issues as they affect women and girls.
"Furthermore, we should all challenge and work towards eradication of socio-cultural practices that promote the spread of the epidemic among women and girls in the country," the President said.
President Kufuor said the government spends about 40 billion cedis annually on the maintenance of HIV/AIDS patients that he said translates to about 45 million per patient annually.
Prof Sakyi A. Amoa, Director of the GAC, said there were eight cities in the country where the infection rate is greater that 5 per cent with Agomanya registering a prevalent rate of 9.2 per cent. He said, "Sex workers and many other groups including the uniformed service personnel, teachers, miners, clients of sex workers, prisoners and long distance truck drivers are believed to have above average prevalence rates".
Prof Amoa said the disease had adopted a "feminist face" because of discrimination against women, gender inequalities and low educational status of women.
He blamed the increasing spate of the disease among women to cultural norms that made it difficult for women to refuse sex or negotiate for safer sex, increasing level of prostitution and refusal of many people to use condoms.
Prof Amoa said voluntary testing would be extended to 240 sites from the current 26 by the end of the year.
Mary Carlin Yates, US Ambassador, said the US was supporting intensive HIV/AIDS programmes in Ghana to the tune of 7 million dollars a year.
Mr Kwasi Owusu-Yeboa, Volta Regional Minister, said the day should be for sober reflection on how to check the spread of the disease. He called for the provision of a voluntary counselling and testing centre for the Volta Region.