The National Heart-to-Heart Ambassador, Rev. John Azumah, has called for increased sensitisation among adolescents on HIV/AIDs to reduce their risk of exposure to the disease.
According to him, the spate at which young people were getting infected with the virus was alarming and could have a negative impact on national development if nothing was urgently done about it.
Organised by the International Child Development Programme (ICDP) Ghana, with support from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the meeting formed part of activities aimed at reducing HIV prevalence among adolescents in two selected municipalities: Akwapim-South and Ga West, respectively.
The National Ambassador, who has lived with HIV for over 20 years, said stigma and discrimination was still rife against persons living with HIV (PLHIV), and were a major deterrence for young persons to disclose their status and receive the needed help.
“PLHIVs suffer great stigmatisation even by some health workers who are supposed to know better. This must stop if we are to encourage lot of people to open up on their status and receive help. PLHIVs have equal rights with all persons and these rights must be respected and safeguarded,” he said.
Rev. Azumah, while appealing to adolescents to desist from unsafe premarital and unprotected sex, encouraged PLHIVs to religiously stick to their antiretrovirals (ARVs) to attain suppression and live longer lives.
The Country Director of ICDP Ghana, Ms Joyce Larnyoh, noted that the emergence of COVID-19 diverted attention from HIV/AIDs fight, causing a significant setback in gains made so far.
“COVID-19 redirected the focus and resources of both state and non-state actors towards containing the spread of the pandemic to the detriment of other critical health conditions such as HIV resulting in the low public education as observed by the PLHIV community.” she said.
Nana AdwoaAfriyieBonsu, Coordinator for the ICDP/UNESCO HIV Prevention and Reproductive Health Education Project, called for drastic measures to be taken by all actors to control the rising infection rates, especially among adolescents.
For her part, Madam Nancy Akrong, ICDP’s Public Health Specialist, pleaded with families and the populace to desist from any act of stigmatisation towards PLHIVs to sustain efforts at containing spread of the disease.
The Ghana Health Services data, as at the end of 2021, indicated that there were 16,938 new HIV infections of which 19 per cent were adolescents (15 to 24 years).
Among the general population, an estimated 345,599 were PLHIVs with 9,859 persons dying from HIV/AIDs in 2021.
With a 1.7 percent HIV prevalence in the country (two out of every 100 people are positive for HIV), a total of 23,495 persons have already tested positive for the virus for the first half of this year.
The prevalence of adolescents aged 15-19 years is estimated at 0.7 percent, thus health experts warn that an increase in population of Adolescents Living with HIV (ALHIV) is likely to lead to a rise in the proportion of young people living with HIV due to the risky sexual behaviour that occurs among adolescents.
The Heart-to-Heart campaign is an initiative by the Ghana AIDS Commission that gives the platform to PLHIVs to disclose their HIV status and share their experiences to educate the Ghanaian population against stigma and discrimination and also empower PLHIVs to accept their status, be on medication and to also protect themselves and others from further HIV infection.