Stigmatisation and discrimination, major challenges of HIV testing – GAC
The Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) has identified stigmatisation and discrimination of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) as a major setback hindering many people from seeking counseling and testing services to know their HIV status.
The Commission said the act was militating against government’s efforts in attaining an AIDS-free generation as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Health.
Mr Dramani Yakubu, the Upper West Regional Technical Coordinator of the GAC, who said this in Wa during a Regional HIV and AIDS Coordination Forum organised by the Commission.
He cited instances where people suspected of having HIV were offered separate washrooms, while others were withdrawn from work, particularly in the informal sector.
The forum was to enable the GAC and partners to discuss the challenges affecting the fight against HIV and AIDS in the country and how to overcome those challenges.
Representatives from the Ghana Health Service, Department of Children and Gender, National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), Ghana Education Service, Information Service Department, and the National Youth Authority among others attended.
“If you stigmatise and discriminate against them (PLHIV) you are rather increasing your risk of contracting the virus because the people will not test and be treated and you don’t know when you will come into contact with any of them,” he said.
Mr Yakubu, in a presentation, said 5,725 people in the Upper West Region were living with HIV, with 4,028 people being on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).
He said the GAC implemented activities including school outreaches, testing, registration of PLHIV on the National Health Insurance Scheme, and distribution of condoms as part of efforts to win the fight against the disease.
He, therefore, called on the stakeholders to strengthen their collaboration as no individual institution could do it alone.
The participants were also taken through the National HIV and AIDS Policy (2019), which outlined the lead agencies’ roles and the responsibility of key stakeholders in its response.
The stakeholders at the forum raised concerns over the negative attitude of some health staff, which had affected the HIV testing and treatment rate.
They said some health personnel exposed PLHIV to social exclusion by releasing information on their HIV status to third parties, which discouraged many persons from getting tested.
Dr Damien Punguyire, the Upper West Regional Director of Health Services, did not dispute that argument but said there were bad nuts in every institution and not every member of staff was qualified to offer counseling services.
He said people working at the HIV Counseling and Testing Unit were well-trained and encouraged the public to have confidence in them and go for the test.
According to the Ghana Health Service Protocol, every health personnel swore an oath to ensure the confidentiality of information or data on patients with clearly defined punishment if anyone breached that oath.
Dr Punguyire said any health staff caught breaching the oath would be punished in line with professional ethics and the law.