HIV policy to be introduced soon
The Government would soon introduce a National HIV/AIDS/STI Policy to provide legal and regulatory framework for addressing the problem of discrimination and stigmatisation against People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama announced this in a keynote address at 2003 the National Celebration of World AIDS Day, at the Takoradi Polytechnic Park in Takoradi, on Monday.
The theme of the celebration is: "HIV/AIDS: The Human Rights Factor." Alhaji Mahama said these measures would have limited impact unless they were supported by the values and behaviour of society.
He stressed, "widespread and enduring changes in social attitudes are necessary if we are to make a headway in dealing with HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination".
Alhaji Mahama said efforts aimed at combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic would not yield the expected results if the problem of stigmatisation and discrimination against people with the disease were not addressed.
Alhaji Mahama said the fact that the United Nations had chosen the theme on stigmatisation and discrimination against PLWHA for 2002 and 2003 confirmed that discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status was prohibited by existing human rights protocols.
He said discrimination against PLWHA or those believed to have contracted the disease, therefore, was a clear violation of their fundamental human rights. Alhaji Mahama said there had been several instances of denial or abuse of the human rights of people living with the disease in the country.
He said, "once a person contracts the virus there is a high likelihood of loss of job, fewer chances to employment, education, accommodation, inheritance and medical care" adding, "health care givers could deny them confidentiality and even marketing their products could be a problem".
Alhaji Mahama said reducing the stigma and discrimination against PLWHA was crucial to the overall strategy to reduce HIV/AIDS in Ghana and would improve the mental, physical and psychosocial health of people living with the disease.
Professor Fred T. Sai, Presidential Adviser on HIV/AIDS commented on a recent publication in one of the country's newspapers that the celebration of the World HIV/AIDS Day was unnecessary and a duplication of World Health Day. He said such negative publications undermined efforts to combat the disease and to educate the public on its causes and prevention.
Professor Sai said the disease had the capacity to undermine the development of the country and the celebration was a good way of drawing the attention to its threat to national well-being.
He said the 50 per cent increase in the prevalence rate between 2000 and 2002 showed that the country's campaign against the disease was not yielding the expected results.
Professor Sai said dangerous sex life was still continuing and some religious extremists were using pseudo-scientific messages to confuse the public and expressed the hope that this would stop.
He expressed concern about the stigmatisation, isolation and discrimination against PLWHA and their close relations saying it was difficult to understand why there was so much discrimination when the infection was so difficult to transmit.
Professor Sai said HIV was not like respiratory infections that could be passively passed on through the air or like contact infections that could be passed on through ordinary contact.
He said over 80 per cent of infections were through sexual intercourse, which required some form of deliberate effort.
Mr Moses Mukasa, Resident Coordinator of United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), who is the Chairman of UN Theme Group, read the message of UN Secretary-General, Busumuru Kofi Annan to mark the day. Busumuru Annan said the epidemic was continuing its lethal march around the world despite huge resources being committed by governments and through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.
He said the UN had failed to reach several declaration targets set for the year and was not on track to begin to reduce the scale and impact of the epidemic by the target year of 2005.
Mr Annan called for even harder work to match the commitment of the UN with necessary resources and action and to keep AIDS at the top of the political and practical agenda.
Professor Sai received 10 bicycles from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy of United States on behalf of the Ghana AIDS Commission.
Mr Magnus Kwashie, Country Director of the Institute, who made the presentation, said the bicycles were to be used by the Commission for its AIDS programmes.
Alhaji Mahama also presented 20 wall clocks to the Western Regional Director of Education, Mr Ahmad Daramanu, for distribution to second cycle schools and unveiled a clock at the Takoradi Polytechnic.
People from all walks of life, government officials, representatives of diplomatic corps, delegation of United States Congress, Chiefs and school children attended the celebration.