Ghana marks World AIDS Day with focus on farmers

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Ghana on December 1, 2017, joins the rest of the globe to mark this year’s World AIDS Day (WAD), under the local theme: “The Right to Health: Know Your HIV Status, Seek Early Treatment”.

World AIDS Day is marked annually to raise awareness on the AIDS epidemic, its impact on persons infected and affected and also remember those who have died from the epidemic.

The global theme for the WAD 2017: “My Health, My Right” focuses on the right to health and explores the challenges people around the world face in exercising their rights.  Launching the WAD 2017, the Executive Director of UNAIDS. Michel Sidibé, noted that: “All people, regardless of their age, gender, where they live or who they love have the right to health,” adding that no matter what the health needs are, everyone requires health solutions that are available and accessible, free from discrimination and of good quality.”

Globally, this year’s commemoration seeks to stress and remind the world that if a person’s right to health is compromised, they are often unable to effectively prevent disease and ill health, including HIV, or to gain access to treatment and care. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), believes that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030, will depend heavily on ensuring the right to health for all.

For Ghana, this year’s WAD is unique, as it comes off simultaneously with  National Farmers Day, a day dedicated to celebrate  farmers and fisher folks, who contribute to about half of the total labour force in Ghana. The joint commemoration fits into the national commitment to reach all populations in every sector of society with HIV and AIDS information and services. 

The day would be marked with a joint grand durbar in Kumasi, the Ashanti Regional capital, where HIV prevalence is estimated to be 2.6 per cent, per the 2016 HIV sentinel survey report.   

“This collaboration is necessitated by the drive to ensure that no one is left behind in the global effort to end AIDS by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. National Farmers Day presents a special opportunity to reach out to farmers and other agribusiness men with the knowledge and tools necessary to live an informed life,” says the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC).

The durbar will have the President of the Republic of Ghana and Chairman of GAC, Nana Akufo-Addo, as the keynote speaker. The newly appointed Country Director of UNAIDS to Ghana, Ms. Angela Trenton-Mbonde, will also deliver the 2017 Global WAD speech on behalf of the UNAIDS Executive Director. 

 GAC and UNAIDS, as part of the event, will in collaboration with partners, mount an exhibition of assorted Information Education and Communication materials, freely distribute condoms and offer HIV testing services.

Technical personnel from GAC and partners shall be available to offer free counselling and psychosocial support on all matters relating to HIV and AIDS. This collaboration is expected to be replicated across the country in all the ten regions of Ghana.

HIV prevalence among women attending antenatal clinics is currently 2.4 % which represents the second consecutive upsurge from the 2015 prevalence of 1.8% and the 2014 prevalence of 1.6 per cent. HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas (2.5 per cent) than rural (1.9 per cent).

The commemoration of WAD 2017 is even more crucial as Ghana and the rest of West and Central Africa seek to meet the global 90-90-90 Fast-track targets of ensuring that by 2020, at least 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status; 90 percent of persons living with HIV who know their status are enrolled in treatment and sustained in care; and 90 percent of people on sustained HIV treatment attain viral suppression.

This World AIDS Day also comes of at a time when UNAIDS has noted that countries in West and Central Africa are lagging  behind in the global pursuit to end AIDS as a public health threat.

Though the global response to HIV is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, with a 48 per cent decline in deaths from AIDS-related causes, from 1.9 million  in 2005 to 1.0 million in 2016, available data suggests that  less than half of persons living with HIV in West and Central Africa are aware of their status.

 “The Global efforts to reach the 90–90–90 targets are leaving millions behind in Western and Central Africa. A relatively high burden of HIV in the region, combined with HIV testing and treatment coverage far below the global average, paints an alarming picture: while it contains 7 per cent of the world’s population, the region is home to 17 per cent of the world’s people living with HIV and accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s AIDS-related deaths,” says UNAIDS in its special analysis report.

According to UNAIDS, the comparatively slow expansion of HIV treatment services, has held back the reduction of AIDS-related deaths in Western and Central Africa. The epidemic has claimed the lives of an estimated 310 000 adults and children in 2016 in the region alone. Figures also point to the fact that while the world witnessed significant progress in responding to HIV, with 57 per cent of all people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 46 per cent of all people living with HIV accessing treatment and 38 per cent of all people living with HIV virally suppressed in 2015, the Western and Central Africa region  achieved only 36 per cent, 28 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. This meant a considerable 4.7 million people living with HIV were not receiving treatment.

 Insufficient access to antiretroviral treatment, under-resourced health systems and logistical weaknesses have made the region hardest hit by AIDS-related deaths in the world, pushing UNAIDS to come up with a catch-up plan to supplement national strategies and existing plans, with the aim of increasing antiretroviral treatment uptake and saving lives in the region.  The catch-up plan is intended to supplement national strategies and existing plans. 

The West and Central Africa Catch-Up Plan  which was endorsed by African heads of states, during the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is expected to dramatically accelerate the scale-up of HIV testing, prevention and treatment programmes, with the goal of putting the region on the Fast-Track to meet the 90–90–90 targets by December 2020.   According to the  Regional Director of UNAIDS for Western and Central Africa, Dr.  Djibrill Diallo, the successful implementation of the plan across the region, will see at least 850 000 people, including 60 000 children, diagnosed as living with HIV but not yet enrolled in care will receive sustained high-quality antiretroviral therapy by mid-2018. This is an estimated 65% of the number of previously tested but untreated people living with HIV.

Ten countries in West and Central Africa have already developed and implemented their catch-up plans, with some already seeing results.  They are Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Ghana is expected to develop a catch up plan, led by the UNAIDS Country Director and the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission.

By Attah-Effah Badu

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