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Opinions of Saturday, 22 December 2001

Columnist: Adu-Asare, R. Y

Why Pres. Kufuor Must Step Up AIDS Prevention Education in Ghana

For significant reasons Ghana’s President John Agyekum Kufuor needs to step up HIV/AIDS prevention education that he has started.



In a speech delivered on his behalf on the UN-sponsored AIDS Day, Pres. Kufuor treated some of the issues associated with the AIDS pandemic, but that was insufficient.

In a recent speech at Prempeh College, a high school in Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, the president again offered some useful advice to the students, yet that was inadequate. Both occasions were ceremonial and the president must go beyond the trappings of made-for-media events in this matter.

Pres. Kufuor must make delivery of AIDS prevention education part of his daily chores and should instruct his cabinet ministers and their deputies to do the same. In fact, every ministry and public agency in Ghana must have anti-AIDS message as a component of responsibilities to the citizens. Bank of Ghana’s example is worthy of emulation.

For a more effective delivery of anti-AIDS message, the president must do his best to deflate the moralistic tendency for Ghanaians and indeed, most Africans, not to discuss sex matters publicly. All creatures know sex is natural and satisfying, so why can’t we talk about it? It’s even possible that celibates fantasize about sex.

Sexual intercourse has been identified as the most direct means for the spread of the AIDS disease in Africa, period. The sooner everybody on the continent comes to terms with this fact, the better it would be, before we decimate our populations and heritage through unruly sexual behavior.

For one reason, Ghanaians, like their brothers and sisters in other African societies seem to take prevalence of the AIDS disease lightly. The Prime Minister of Mozambique, a trained medical doctor, has illustrated the lack of seriousness attached to the AIDS disease by saying there in no known name for the pandemic in any African language.

Last summer, the prime minister, at a public forum in Arlington, VA, asked a Mozambiquan college professor of African studies in the United States to tell him the name of AIDS in his native language. Oh, was the professor embarrassed? You bet he was!

In Mozambique the AIDS disease is described as “women’s disease”, according to the prime minister. On the basis of that revelation I asked a number of African correspondents from various countries in Washington, DC to tell me name of AIDS in their native language, the descriptions supported the Mozambique prime minister’s view.

In Mali, for example, the AIDS disease is described as “the disease from Ivory Coast”. In one other country in East Africa AIDS disease is referred to as “the long illness.” When the disease started taking its toll in Ghana in the early 1980s, it was given a political connotation and described as “Rawlings necklace”. Right?

I have extended the concern raised by Prime Minister Pascoal Mbacombi to demonstrate that most Africans are yet to grasp the import and prevalence of the AIDS disease as serious as say tuberculosis, TB, or malaria. Most African languages have names for malaria and TB.

For another significant reason why President Kufuor should step up AIDS prevention education, analysts in the United States intelligence community have concluded that there is an interconnectedness between HIV/AIDS and the totality of the political economy of African societies.

In the economic sphere, the analysts have indicated that deaths of major breadwinners from AIDS bring financial hardships on several thousands of families when saddled with widows or widowers and orphans. This situation becomes more pronounced in countries where there are no structures of social safety nets, the analysts surmise.

There is a conclusion by analysts that most African societies devastated by AIDS deaths cannot meet their projected economic growth targets. The fundamental reason is that AIDS is taking away a lot of professionals, trained technicians and civil servants. In fact, the analysts say that non-governmental organizations, NGOs, that have played critical roles in development and democratization, have suffered also because of decimation of their personnel through AIDS-related deaths.

According to the analysts and other experts, educational systems in Africa are going down because of deaths of teachers and administrators from the AIDS disease.

In a conversation with a journalist from Zambia, I was told that good reporters in that country have passed away from the AIDS disease leaving a void in the press. It should not be too far-fetched to assume a similar situation in Ghana; most prominent by-lines of old are missing from the Ghanaian press these days.

In the political realm, analysts and other experts have concluded that there is an indirect relationship between the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and instability. Using the South African situation as a case, it has been revealed that Pres. Thabo Mbeki’s position on the nature of relationship between HIV and AIDS has created divisions in the leadership of the ruling party, African National Congress, ANC, among media members as well as within anti-AIDS institutions. In addition, HIV/AIDS issues have dominated national political discourse in South Africa since Pres. Mbeki’s position attracted attention of the international press.

Under current economic and political dynamics, Ghana cannot afford the occurrence and possible outcomes such as exist in South Africa. But, so much for AIDS prevention education, so far. The other prong in the fight against AIDS that Pres. Kufuor needs to pay attention to is treatment and care for people living with the disease.

Given the specific social conditions of Ghana, it would be fair if some money were earmarked for direct support for families of individuals living with the disease. Anti-AIDS drugs are expensive this means the proposed manufacturing of generic versions of the retroviral drugs in Ghana must be speeded up.

For the meantime, society must be sensitized to extend sympathy to those living with AIDS. The proverbial Ghanaian hospitality should not be reserved only for tourists and visitors but also to our own citizens in times of need and misfortune.

In October, last year, former Pres. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, in Washington, DC, said, “If the aid given Africa from donors is used properly, it can help the fight against AIDS.” Kaunda’s son has died of AIDS leaving behind six children in his care. He cautioned Africans to break the wall of silence about AIDS to make people with the disease come forward for treatment.

Please submit all comments and questions to: asare@erols.com