US Ambassador: A new dawn in Ghana

ArchA new year means new challenges and new opportunities. In my corner of West Africa, both were on display this week. On Monday, January 7, as I drove through the red, yellow, and green clad streets of Accra towards Independence Square, I reflected on how privileged I was to witness history in the making as Ghana’s fourth president of the Fourth Republic was on his way to the Square to be sworn in, after successfully concluding a hard-fought political campaign. Unfortunately, my previous diplomatic postings did not afford me an opportunity to see a peaceful assumption of power after a democratic election.

Witnessing the on-time arrival of dignitaries and convening of the new Parliament alongside a stage full of political leaders from across Africa and notably, Ghana’s former presidents John Kuffour, Jerry Rawlings and former Secretary General Kofi Annan was an unforgettable cap to my first hundred days in Ghana. The only wrinkle in the event was the boycott by the main opposition party, which is challenging the outcome of the election.

Since arriving in late September, I’ve been struck by the number of Ghanaian political leaders who took time to meet with me in the midst of a very heated campaign season, to discuss where they see their country going and to explain how their lives changed immeasurably by connecting with Americans. Whether these Ghanaians were impacted by a U.S. educational or exchange experience, a Peace Corps teacher, a job with a U.S. company, or assistance from our development programs in education or health, the ties that link Ghana and the United States are diverse, long-standing, and far reaching. This became even more evident as the U.S. delegation of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO Daniel Yohannes, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Teitelbaum was so warmly welcomed by President Mahama, Vice President Amissah-Arthur, and numerous other African leaders at the formal inauguration and the post-inauguration luncheon for Heads of State.

On Tuesday, I moved from the ceremonial to the reality of daily life. I spent the day at the Eastern Regional Hospital, where I interacted with Ghanaians living with HIV/AIDS, their caregivers and advocates, and dedicated health workers who are working with our USAID and CDC Missions under the PEPFAR program. I witnessed the circumstances that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) and their caregivers face each day as they seek counseling, treatment, and support to weather living with HIV.

PEPFAR programs in Ghana are practical, results-oriented interventions to help reduce the stigma that PLHIV still face in the wider society, despite many efforts by government and NGOs to improve education. Our programs encourage PLHIV to seek treatment and adhere to life-saving treatment regimens of anti-retroviral medications (ARVs). These programs make it possible for support groups to meet and, using the Models of Hope approach, have inspired and equipped those who are responding to antiviral treatment to advocate and encourage other PLHIV. Longer term, they are improving the ability of Ghana’s public health system to diagnose, treat, and monitor the care of those impacted by HIV to bring the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Ghana to zero, even among populations who are at most risk of contracting the disease. The Centers for Disease Control is playing an important role by strengthening the ability of key public labs to meet international standards, and increase the accuracy of diagnosis and effectiveness of medical treatment, which will benefit Ghanaians for generations to come. It is impressive to see firsthand the impact that a relatively modest amount of U.S. taxpayer money can have on the health of a population.

Later this spring, I will go elsewhere in Ghana to see where our PEPFAR team, Global Health Initiative implementing partners, and Peace Corps volunteers are working side-by-side with Ghanaians to save lives and improve the quality of life for those affected by HIV, malaria, and inadequate nutrition. We will keep you posted on how we are addressing these challenges and seizing new opportunities this year.

By Gene A. Cretz
US Ambassador to Ghana

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