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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Columnist: Vicky Wireko

HIV and AIDS: Are we really winning the war?

Opinion Opinion

I was quite disappointed to read from the Daily Graphic’s issue of September 28, 2015, that 54 students from the Tema metropolis had tested positive for HIV.

For some time now, I was under the impression that the paucity on the airwaves with HIV-AIDS education meant that at least with the infection rate, we were out of the woods and therefore there was no need to keep drumming it in people’s ears. But we are not: Are we?

45 HIV positive cases
At an outreach programme organised by the Tema Metro Office of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and GIZ, the Metropolitan Director of Health Services disclosed that 54 students between 14 and 19 years tested positive for HIV in the Tema metropolis between January and September this year. According to the director, 13 others aged 13 to 19 also tested positive for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and have since been put on counselling and treatment.

What one does not know is how these 54 students contracted HIV. Going by what one knows about the deadly disease however, the students may have contracted the virus via any of the conventional ways experts have told us about. It must have been either through sexual contact or passed on at birth through a parent or maybe through a cut either on the skin or in the mouth.

If the Director of Health Services’ claim that 13 other students between 13 and 19 also tested positive for STIs is anything to go by, then it is safe to say that infection through sexual contact may be a greater possibility and a worrying one too for children as young as 13 or 14 years.

However, 54 testing positive is quite a number. One may want to ask whether we have slackened in our educational campaigns against HIV-AIDS.

Forgotten disease?
For some reason, one seems to have forgotten a bit about HIV infection. Education has been a bit quieter on the airwaves on HIV-AIDS generally. We also have not been seeing those screaming billboards anymore. But of course the much deadlier Ebola disease took everybody’s focus off all other diseases including HIV-AIDS when it hit parts of West Africa last year.

Priority education
No matter what the rate of infection, the story as reported in the Daily Graphic on the case of the HIV positive students in Tema must be of high priority to the school health division of the Ministry of Health. The story should be of priority concern to the Ghana Education Service as well as the authorities of the schools involved.

The Ghana Aids Commission, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Education Service should be revising their notes on HIV-AIDS education in schools and begin to give it priority once again. Schoolchildren as young as 14 years testing HIV positive sounds quite alarming.

We may have got to that stage because as parents, some of us are neglecting our duties and responsibilities towards our children. We are leaving the supervision of our children to others and sometimes to the children themselves forgetting the vulnerabilities of our world today.

There may have been improvements in the treatment of HIV-AIDS and other STDs currently. However, we could prevent this disease and other infections rather than watch on for a child to get infected before we run for treatment or cure. The mental agony and the stigmatisation such a child would go through may turn his or her world bitter and regretful.

With this new information coming from Tema, we need to revive and vigorously too, education on HIV-AIDS. While focusing on Ebola prevention, we should not scale down the education that was so well done in the past on HIV-AIDS. The case of the 54 students in the Tema metropolis has reawakened one’s fears that HIV-AIDS is only around the corner, in case we all forgot.

Education on prevention and the dangers in contracting the disease should be a priority in schools. Employers should continue to devote budgets to HIV-AIDS education, and parents should continue to have conversations with their children on HIV-AIDS. That devastating disease has surely not gone anywhere.

vickywirekoandoh@yahoo.com