Tamale, Dec 15, GNA - The government has been urged to play a leading role in the protection of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and encourage an open and tolerant public understanding and acceptance of them to reduce discrimination and stigmatisation against them.
It has been noticed that the ignorance and prejudice associated with the disease is a major factor impeding the successful fight against the disease.
Mr John Kofi Klutse, Northern Regional Director of the Department of Social Welfare made the call at the opening of a two-day sensitisation workshop on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for staff of Departments and Agencies under the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment (MMYE) in Tamale on Thursday. About 50 participants from the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions attended the workshop, which was organised by the Department of Social Welfare and sponsored by the Ministry. Mr Klutse said that studies had shown that the perceived risk of personal infections of HIV/AIDS was low among the populace and there was a general fear of people knowing their HIV status, as it would occasion stigmatization.
Mr Klutse said although there was still no cure for AIDS, it was pertinent for every individual to know his status, adding that in this regard, voluntary counseling and testing played a crucial role in the fight against the pandemic.
"Knowing one's status is not a death warrant as most people would want to believe, if an individual tests negative the person is encouraged to stay negative through the adoption of positive behaviour change.
"On the other hand, if one is tested positive there is hope in the form of medications," he emphasised.
Mr. Klutse regretted that the pandemic had shown much resilience in its devastation of mankind mostly in Africa, which, he said, was carrying about 70 per cent of the disease. He said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had estimated that over 26 million workers in their reproductive prime were infected with HIV, which had adversely affected the supply of labour, undermined livelihoods, encouraged discrimination and impacted negatively on the over all economic development of a country.
Mr Jacob Achulo, a Principal Social Development Officer said to confront the disease, there was the need for behavioral change and the promotion of various interventions to reduce high-risk sexual behaviours.
Mr. Achulo urged the participants to take the workshop seriously so that they would be better placed to effectively integrate HIV/AIDS into their departmental programmes and also "send powerful and piercing messages to your communities and workplaces so as to evoke responsible behavioral change".
Mr Elvis Addae, a resource person who made a presentation on the overview of HIV/AIDS in Ghana, said since the first HIV case was reported in the country in 1986 the number had since risen to 76,000 as at 2004.
He said people should disabuse their minds that AIDS was not real and instead, learn to protect themselves.
He said in sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) was 30 million but noted that the figure could be much higher as most infected people would not report to the hospitals. Mr Addae urged all stakeholders in the fight against the AIDS pandemic to take the education of the youth, especially those between the ages of 10 and 14, seriously since they were not yet sexually active and remained the "window of hope" for society. Mr Michael Vierra an Assistant Superintendent of Police who was one of the resource persons educated the participants on sexually transmitted diseases.