About 600,000 people infected with AIDS in Ghana
Dr Richard Anane, Minister of Health, on Tuesday said current estimates indicate that over 600,000 people may be living with AIDS in Ghana.
He said the figure represents 4.6 per cent of the total population of the country, adding that "at the current prevalence rate, it is estimated that the number of those infected could swell to 1.3 million by the year 2005".
Dr Anane said this in a speech read on his behalf by Dr. Kwaku Yeboah, Programme Manager of the National AIDS Control Programme and a member of the AIDS Commission, at the formal launch at Akropong of a 14 million-dollar African Youth
Alliance (AYA) project to combat HIV/AIDS and improve Adolescent Reproductive Health (ARH) in the country.
The five-year project (2000-2004), which is being sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is to be implemented by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Pathfinder International (PI), and Programme of Appropriate Technology for Health (PATH), both American-based population and health related non-government organisations.
It is targeted at the youth between the ages zero and 29 years, who have been identified as most vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS but lack the appropriate information.
Dr. Anane said by the end of December last year, a cumulative total of 43,587 cases of AIDS had been reported at Ministry of Health (MOH) facilities throughout the country. He added that 6,289 cases were reported between January and December 2000 alone.
"What is most precarious is that many more cases of infection go unreported and the majority of those infected are young people in their productive stages of life between age 15 and 34," he said.
Females constitute 63 per cent of those affected in Ghana. Dr Anane said the high infection rate of AIDS among adolescents is a result of challenges such as peer pressure, unemployment and poverty, among other things, which make them vulnerable to social vices, including promiscuity.
"While circumstances compel many young people to end schooling early, a growing number of these have to survive on the streets," he said.
Surveys conducted in various parts of the country indicate that many young people become sexually active by age 17.
"By age 20, 85 per cent of women have engaged in sex and 22 per cent of them get pregnant. However, for 69 per cent adolescent mothers aged between 15 and 19 years pregnancies are either unplanned or unwanted."
Dr Anane said considering the fact that 65 per cent of Ghana's population are the youth, problems facing the youth have grave adverse implications on both the present and future economy of the country.
"For instance, adolescent childbearing, illness and disability impose heavy cost on the society and the nation at large.
"It is for this reason that the government underscores the importance of addressing problems of young people as a major pre-requisite for development."
He pledged the government's commitment to the implementation of existing national population, HIV/AIDS and ARH policies and programmes to safeguard the future of the youth and the nation as a whole.
Dr. Anane mentioned that National Reproductive Health Service Policy and Standards and its protocols, the draft ARH and HIV/AIDS Policies and strategic framework, saying that government will ensure that the appropriate legislation is passed to back their implementation.
"District response initiative is also being implemented in selected districts as well as programmes of other public and private sector institutions to combat AIDS and improve ARH," he said.
He pledged government's support for the AYA initiative and expressed the hope that the project will achieve its target by the end of the five-year period.
Ms. Audrey Elster, AYA Programmes Manager, said the project would focus on involving the youth and opinion leaders such as teachers, parents, traditional rulers, religious leaders, NGOs and state organisations in the dissemination of HIV/AIDS and ARH information.
"It will also involve capacity building of organisations and offering of livelihood skills to the youth to enable them to make ends meet and stay away from sex," he said.
Ms. Comfort Max-Wirth, a teacher, pleaded with parents, teachers, counsellors, traditional leaders, NGOs and the government to ensure that measures are in place for the youth to access the needed information to protect themselves from AIDS.
She urged the youth to abstain from sex or use contraceptives when necessary. Oseadeyo Addo Dankwa III, Omanhene of Akuapem Traditional Area who presided, expressed the hope that the project would succeed, saying that "history has proved that everything that begins at Akropong succeeds".