First Lady calls for accelerated response to HIV
The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, has opened an international conference on HIV in Accra, with a call on international and local authorities to accelerate response to the disease if it is to be eliminated by 2030.
“The good news is that there are tried and tested interventions that have demonstrated favourable outcomes. We do not have to do anything new but deliver these well-known interventions with commitment,” she said.
Mrs Akufo-Addo made the call at the 13th Annual International Conference on HIV Treatment, Pathogenesis and Prevention Research in Resource-Limited Settings (INTEREST Conference) in Accra yesterday.
The INTEREST Conference, which is from May 14 to 17, 2019, is the premier scientific conference on HIV in Africa and co-organised by the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and Virology Education, providers of healthcare professional education.
Participants are from 45 countries across the world.
Passionate about children with HIV, the First Lady said: “There has been remarkable progress against HIV, with a reduction in HIV-related deaths, but this notwithstanding, children are still left behind.”
Giving statistics, she said in 2017, it was estimated that 180,000 new infections among children occurred globally, majority of which could be found in Africa, with West and Central Africa accounting for 21 per cent of new HIV infections and 30 per cent of global deaths.
Quoting a 2018 UNAIDS report, Mrs Akufo-Addo said Ghana had an estimated 3,400 new HIV infections in children under-14 years in 2017 and said although that indicated a decline of 42 per cent since 2005, “we need to accelerate our response if we have to eliminate HIV infection in children”.
She called on the country to focus much of its interventions on pregnant women, proposing that those who were HIV negative early in pregnancy should be re-tested before delivery, adding that “this will ensure that women who seroconvert and become HIV-positive later in the pregnancy receive appropriate treatment”.
Additionally, the First Lady charged the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to have a reporting system that would identify every single infant who was infected with HIV.
The Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, in a welcome address, said after 30 years of existence, HIV was still a major disease across the world.
He said the rate of progress to get drugs to stop the disease was slow and stressed the need to do more to stop the disease from further devastating the world.
Mr Agyeman-Manu said abstinence was still the key to help stop the disease and called on all to abstain from casual or unprotected sex.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) representative in Uganda, Dr Karusa Kiragu, who spoke on the topic: “The Road to 90-90-90: Progress in HIV Prevention and Treatment Scale-Up in sub-Saharan Africa”, called for political commitment to finance HIV activities locally to help stop the disease on the African continent.
The acting Executive Director of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), Mr Kyeremeh Atuahene, who spoke on the country’s current HIV status, said Ghana continued to have a generalised epidemic, with pockets of high prevalence.
Giving highlights of a yet-to-be-released report on Ghana’s HIV situation, he said it still had a long way to go if it wanted to achieve epidemic control.
He said sustained investment in the control of the disease would help bring down the number of new infections.
He said the GAC had taken a policy decision to introduce self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis this year.
The President of the Non-State Actors Coalition in Health, Mrs Cecilia Senoo, in a presentation, called on state actors to see civil society organisations (CSOs) as partners in the fight against HIV.
She said Ghana’s current performance in the UNAIDS 90-90-90 agenda was worrisome, as not much was being achieved.
Mrs Senoo, who is also the Executive Director of Hope for Future Generations, a women and youth centred organisation, said Ghana’s stagnant HIV response for over four years also called for a lot of work to be done to move its response forward.