ECOWAS region has 4.8 million persons living with HIV

At the end of 2022, there are 4.8 million persons living with HIV in West Africa, with 160,00 new infections and 120,000 AIDS-related deaths recorded. 

ECOWAS member-States have therefore been urged to collectively rise above national borders, transcend political differences, and unite to create an inclusive and rights-based approach to HIV prevention and treatment. 

Mr Mahama Asei Seini, the Deputy Minister of Health, said a multi-sectoral approach remained critical to efforts backed by high level political action to address HIV and its multifaceted challenges. 

He said this at a Regional Consultative Meeting on HIV-related stigma reduction in the ECOWAS Region, on the theme: “Leaving No One Behind: Social Inclusion and Respect for Human Rights in Disease Prevention and Response.” 

The three-day meeting, which brought together health authorities and AIDS Commission managers from Member States, among others, sought to review the HIV epidemic in West Africa. 

It focused on what each state had done, learning from best practices and experiences, taking into consideration the peculiar vulnerabilities across the region and how to tackle stigmatisation and discrimination whilst encouraging prevention. 

Mr Asei Seini said the region had been challenged with gender stereotyping, violence, stigma, discrimination, and harmful laws and practices and other inequalities, which had impeded access to HIV services. 

“In health care settings, it is imperative for services to be stigma-free and supportive, ensuring that individuals can access HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services without fear of discrimination,” he said.  

Ghana had not been spared the scourge of HIV-related stigma, where the People Living with HIV Stigma Index Report, 2020, revealed the persistence of HIV status- associated human rights infringements such as verbal abuses and job losses, he said.  

Mr Asei Seini said internalised stigma was very high, with a prevalence of 69.4 per cent among females and 30 per cent among males, whilst HIV status disclosure was also low, particularly among those in cohabiting relationships and men, who had sex with men. 

Ghana’s HIV stigma reduction had been enshrined in the Ghana AIDS Commission Act, 2016 (Act 938), with specific provisions on non-discrimination of persons living with HIV, assurances of the right to privacy and confidentiality, the right to work, right to education, and sexual and reproductive health rights, among other things.  

The Ghana HIV and AIDS Policy 2019 had prioritised the promotion of human rights of all persons affected and, or living with HIV, where it called for active education, promotion, and protection.  

The Deputy Minister said the country had also developed a five-year strategic plan for a comprehensive response to human rights-related barriers to HIV & TB services (2020-2024), which served as a guide to eliminating all forms of stigma and discrimination. 

It is to promote access to justice and legal literacy, remove gender-based barriers, build capacity of health workers, and reduce stigma and discrimination in religious, faith-based, and traditional settings. 

Within the sub-region, HIV continues to impact the lives of millions with 4.8 million persons living with HIV, including 160,00 new HIV infections and 120,000 AIDS-related deaths recorded at the end of 2022. 

Meanwhile, the prevalence of HIV in the general population in the ECOWAS region is relatively low at 0.3 per cent – 0.35 per cent. 

Madam Sandra Oulate Fattoh, Director, ECOWAS Centre for Gender Development, said the Commission had since 2015 adopted the “Additional Act on equal rights between women and men for sustainable development in the ECOWAS region.” 

She said Chapter Viii of the said Act urged Member States to implement policies and programmes aimed at gender equality and providing prevention services, treatment, care, and support for people infected and affected. 

She called for the need to address gender-based violence, which constituted the bed of those inequalities to tackle stigmatisation and discrimination against HIV carriers, while victims must benefit from psychosocial support and legal supervision. 

Source: GNA  

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