National Program to Encourage Compassion and Support For HIV/AIDS Victims
Muslim and Christian religious leaders will foster support and compassion for those living with HIV/AIDS under a new program launched today in Ghana, where approximately a half- million people are living with the virus that causes AIDS.
Reach Out, Show Compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS is the second phase of the successful Stop AIDS, Love Life national communication program, which began in February 2000. Stop AIDS, Love Life is a joint effort of the Ghana Ministries of Information and Health, the Ghana Social Marketing Foundation, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (CCP), with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Christian Council of Ghana will coordinate the religious groups in implementing the Reach Out, Show Compassion campaign.
Today's launch featured Ghana's Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama and his wife Hajia Rahmatu Mahama; Professor F.T. Sai, Presidential Adviser on Reproductive Health; Professor S.A. Amoa, Director General of the Ghana AIDS Commission; members of Ghana's Council of State and Parliament; and from the U.S. Embassy, Charge d'affaires Gary Pergl.
"Let us all go from here with the singular resolve of showing compassion to all persons living with HIV and AIDS and their families, and supporting each other to adopt appropriate safe behaviors that will lead us to win the fight against HIV/AIDS," Vice President Mahama said.
"We must do everything we can to treat our fellow Ghanaians with respect, support, and, most of all, compassion when they learn they are HIV-positive," said Sai, who chaired the launch ceremony. "Our response to those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS can either give them hope or lead to despair. We choose to give them hope."
Twenty-three Muslim leaders and 25 Christian leaders committed, in an historic Communique presented to Vice President Mahama at the launch, to work together with the Government and other stakeholders in confronting the problems Ghana faces because of HIV/AIDS.
"We do not only have to impart to the human society the type of moral education that will contribute to the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission, but also have to inculcate in the individuals of society the need to show compassion to HIV/AIDS infected and affected," the Communique stated.
The new program will increase the number of religious organizations and congregations and humanitarian groups engaged in HIV/AIDS issues. Training programs for 900 clergy, Imams, and other religious leaders will be held throughout Ghana to help set up compassion programs. Television and radio spots will also support a compassionate response by quoting directly from the Bible or Koran where compassionate behavior is demonstrated.
"Reducing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is a critical element of any strategic communication program," said Emmanuel Fiagbey, CCP's country representative in Ghana. "People living with HIV/AIDS need more than medical support; they need emotional and spiritual support, they need to live in caring communities. This will slow the spread of HIV because people will not be so likely to hide their status if they can expect more compassion."
With representatives in more than 30 countries, CCP is a pioneer in the field of strategic, research-based communication for behavior change and health promotion that helped transform the theory and practice of public health communication. The Bloomberg School of Public Health established CCP in 1988 to focus attention on the central role of communication in health behavior and to provide leadership in the field of behavior change communication