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Health News of Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Source: GNA

Ghana's AIDS prevalence drops, but no complacency - Prof. Amoa

Accra, Aug. 5, GNA - Prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Ghana has steadily declined as a result of enhanced multi-sectoral response programmes that aim at reducing the disease to less than one per cent, the Ghana AIDS Commission said on Tuesday. Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa, Director-General of the Commission, told Ghana News Agency that national prevalence had dropped to 1.9 per cent at the end of last year, from 2.2 per cent in 2006 and 3.6 per cent in 2004. This improvement, he said, would positively impact the country's economy through increased productivity.

"HIV is a business issue...It has a major negative economic impact as a result of the associated high level of absenteeism from work. You will lose competent staff and spend more money recruiting new employees. All these lead to reduction in productivity." Prevalence among the youth aged 25-29 years as of December last year was 3.5 per cent, down from 4.5 per cent in 2006. "Ghana is doing very well... we are gradually winning the war against the disease," he said, adding that Ghana could achieve the control target by up-scaling prevention and control programmes, advocacy, and awareness creation, including addressing logistics challenges facing the programme.

However, there should be no complacency despite the progress, he cautioned, saying the country is not yet totally out of the woods. "We are on the way of winning the war but we need not be complacent," he said, adding that there was need for people to continue to appreciate the mode of contracting the disease and apply the needed behavioural change. There are currently about 300,000 AIDS infected persons in Ghana of which 15,000 are on anti-retroviral drugs.

Ghana's current HIV prevalence runs second lowest in West Africa, after Senegal. Prof. Amoa said over a five-year period, the rate of infection among commercial sex workers in the cities had reduced to 52 per cent in 2006, down from 80 per cent in 1999 as a result of increased condom usage and protection advocacy. "Commercial sex workers constitute a crucial area that we focus our strategic policies on and I can say we have made a significant progress in that area," he said, adding that condom usage among female sex workers was currently 98 per cent.

"Apart from some regular clients that do not use condom, the indications are that they now insist on protection, more than before." He said a voluntary counselling and testing segment of the programme targeting pregnant women had been a major booster. Under this policy, all pregnant women visiting antenatal clinics are automatically tested for the disease. "This has really helped to identify cases of mother-to-child transmission," he said, adding that the infected are immediately processed for treatment and care.

Prof. Amoa mentioned as a major challenge the lack of adequate health professionals, particularly physicians, in the general health care system to implement control programmes. Currently, there are only about 1,200 doctors at public health institutions in Ghana, which has a population of about 22 million. Other challenges are the pervasive stigma against HIV sufferers, Prof Amoa said. "There is still a high level of stigma that needs to be addressed... it's a big challenge." Prof. Amoa said there were still sections of young people who still had doubts about the prevalence of AIDS and therefore did not consciously protect themselves against the disease. However, he said, general condom usage had increased to 34 per cent from 28 per cent among women, and from 44 per cent to 52 per cent among men.

Prof. Amoa said the most vulnerable group in Ghana includes the security agencies, long distance commercial drivers and traders, all of whom constituted a migrant population. He said the main strategic intervention areas include enhanced voluntary counselling and testing, support for sufferers, as well as treatment and care, using evidence-based research work. The Commission works with key partners including donors and private relief agencies.