Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia Thursday swore-in the newly constituted Governing Board of the Ghana AIDS Commission at the Jubilee House in Accra, charging them to work harder towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG) target of ending AIDS by 2030.
Dr Kwaku Afriyie, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, chairs the 19-member Board.
The Vice President said since the Government assumed office in January 2017, Ghana had made tremendous progress in her response to the fight against HIV, with new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths fallen by 14 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, between 2016 and 2020.
The gains, he said, was made possible due to direct scaling up of testing and anti-retroviral treatment services using differentiated service delivery models throughout the country.
Additionally, within the same period, the uptake of HIV testing increased by 80 per cent, while the number of HIV positive pregnant mothers receiving anti-retroviral therapy to prevent mother-to-child transmission had increased by 159 per cent, he said.
Currently, there is an average of 21,000 HIV and AIDS related deaths annually over the past five years, with more than 245,000 of the estimated 346,000 persons living with HIV on anti-retroviral treatment.
Members of the Governing Board are Mr Kyeremeh Atuahene, the Director-General of the Commission, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, the Minister of Health, Mrs Cecilia Abena Dapaah, Acting Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Mr Daniel Botwe, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Decentralisation and Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service.
Others are: Dr Leticia Adalaide Appiah, the Executive Director of National Population Council, Professor Samuel Kobina Annim, the Government Statistician, Mr Victor Attah Ntumi, President, Ghana HIV and AIDS Network, Rev. Dr Cyril G. K. Fayose, the General-Secretary of the Ghana Christian Council of Churches, Alhaji Muhammed Baba Shajbu, a representative from the Federation of Muslim and Ahmadiyya Mission, Pimampim Yaw Kagbrese V, representative from the National House of Chiefs, Mr Franklin Owusu Ansah, a representative from the Trades Union Congress and Mrs Elsie Cornelia Arkorful-Ayeh, President of Network of Association of Persons Living with HIV.
Vice President Bawumia said the number of persons living with HIV and receiving anti-retroviral therapy had increased by nearly 100 per cent over the last five years.
The Vice President said significant progress had also been made in the area of data system strengthening, which had enhanced data capture and data use in health facilities across the country.
He said the positive developments had placed Ghana in a much stronger position to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) target of ending AIDS by 2030.
“Our work, however, is far from done. HIV remains a major public health concern, and AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in Ghana, with an average of 21,000 deaths annually over the last five years.
“With more than 245,000 of the estimated 346,000 persons living with HIV on anti-retroviral treatment, we should not be seeing such significant numbers of new infections and AIDS-related deaths.”
Dr Bawumia urged the Board members to use their experiences and technical expertise to help strengthen the “Back to Care Campaign,” which the Commission had embarked to end the HIV and AIDS spread.
He said the Government was fully committed to providing domestic resources to meet the demands of the National HIV & AIDS Fund in order to enable the Commission respond financially to its responsibilities and make it self-resilient on a sustainable basis.
“Currently, under the Treat All Policy, clients are initiated on anti-retroviral treatment within seven days of diagnosis using standard models of care and patient-centered approach that assures improved linkage to care and retention in care,” he said.
“Yet, clients on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment switch to herbal or spiritual substitutes in response to false claims of cure. Discontinuation of anti-retroviral treatment often results in increased viral load, and eventually death,” Dr Bawumia said.
“On addressing the issue of inadequate laboratory equipment and supplies in health facilities, I have been informed that the Global Fund is procuring additional numbers of GeneXpert machines to mitigate this challenge.
“As a matter of urgency, these machines must be installed as soon as they become available to improve patient monitoring and early infant diagnosis.”
He observed that the National HIV and AIDS programme had shown remarkable resilience in the face of COVID-19 in the last two years.
However, the country had not been spared its devastating impact. COVID-19 disrupted HIV testing, prevention and treatment services in Ghana, and continued to pose a significant threat to persons living with HIV, he added.
He noted that with COVID-19 still present, the country faced a serious challenge in ending AIDS by 2030, because it had the potential to reverse the gains made in the HIV response.
“Therefore, we cannot afford to see the significant gains achieved in the HIV and AIDS response reversed.
“I am fully aware of underfunding of HIV programmes, with donor expectation that government must fill the funding gap of more than 60% per cent of the estimated cost of the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2021-2025,” Dr Bawumia said.
“Specifically, government is required to provide funding to meet the costs of rapid diagnostic test kits, reagents and other laboratory supplies, anti-retroviral medicines to treat some 225,000 persons and the provision of condoms.
“Costs of prevention services for the general population, coordination and management of the national response will equally be borne by government,” he assured.
The Vice President said since the Ghana AIDS Commission Act 2016 (Act 938) did not provide any dedicated sources of revenue for the Fund, the previous Governing Board identified additional sources of funds that could ensure continuous inflow of revenue into the Fund.
He was of the belief that HIV financing should be a shared responsibility, and, therefore, industries whose activities created conditions for the spread of HIV should share the burden of funding.
He reminded the Board of the Commission’s mandate to prevent and control the HIV and AIDS epidemic, to promote and protect the rights of persons living with HIV, and to provide for related purposes.
That, he said, should guide the decisions and actions of the Governing Board at all times.
“The Commission has domesticated the HIV and AIDS related SDGs in the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2021-2025. Ending AIDS and achieving epidemic control are the goals of the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (NSP) 2021-2025.
“These goals are to be achieved by reaching the 95-95-95 fast-track testing and treatment targets, which requires that, by 2025: 95 per cent of all persons living with HIV in the country must be diagnosed; 95 per cent of the people diagnosed must be placed on anti-retroviral treatment; and 95 per cent of people on anti-retroviral treatment must be virally suppressed,” the Vice President reminded the Board.
The National Strategic Plan, he said, intended to reduce new infections and AIDS deaths by 85 per cent, as well as eliminate mother-to-child transmission.
“The Strategy ensures that prevention, testing and treatment are given as a comprehensive package through standard models of differentiated services, to ensure that groups, communities and individuals receive tailor-made services that meet their specific needs,” the Vice President said.
Dr Kwaku Afriyie, chairperson of the Board, in his acceptance address, thanked the President for the confidence reposed in them and believed that with support from the government they would deliver on their mandate.