General News of Monday, 22 December 2003

Source: GNA

AIDS Commission opens Counselling centre for PLWHAs

Koforidua, Dec. 22, GNA - The Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), Prof. Sakyi Awuku Amoa, has inaugurated a Documentation, Information and Counselling Centre (Matthew 25 House) established by the Pastoral Clinical Education (PCE) of the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua on Monday.

The Centre is to offer guidance and counselling on HIV/AIDS to People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) and the public. Prof. Amoa announced that as from next year, the GAC would intensify emphasis on care for AIDS orphans, PLWAS and home-based care for PLWHAs.

In commending the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua for establishing the Centre, he noted that under the national response strategy, one area, which had not received much attention, was the creation of an enabling environment for PLWHAs to lead their lives to the full due to negative attitudes the Ghanaians have towards them.

The situation, he noted, presented a major social and psychological problem as a result of increased stigmatisation and discrimination against the PLWHAs, hence the adoption of the theme "Reducing stigmatisation and discrimination against PLWHAs" for the 2002-2003 World AIDS Days.

Prof. Amoa said recent studies revealed concluded that there was currently an atmosphere of silence and secrecy around HIV status, negative judgemental attitudes towards PLWHAs, instances of discrimination by medical workers and PLWHAs facing discrimination in workplace with some losing their jobs.

"What is even worrying and disturbing is that while society puts a stigma on PLWHAs and considers them as immoral individuals, the tendency for faith-based organizations to exclude such individuals on the basis of theology of sin even aggravates the situation."

Prof Amoa asked religious bodies and people with faith to play a major role in the crusade against the pandemic by counselling people to change their negative attitude.

They should also create an enabling environment that would allow society to listen to marginalized voices and them help out. The Eastern Regional Director of the Education (GES), Mrs Ewurabena Ahwoi, commended PLWHAs who volunteered to join the crusade against the pandemic.

She said the GES would team up with the Centre to set up more Youth Alive Clubs in first and second cycle schools to encourage behavioural changes.

Rev. Father Alex Bobby Benson, founder of the centre, said it was to enable PLWHAs to have a place to congregate, associate and empowered to live positively.

He commended the GAC for its financial support to the group, saying it had so far received 220 million cedis and appealed for more support from companies and benevolent organizations.

Dr. Ebenezer Appiah-Denkyira, Eastern Regional Director of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), suggested to workplaces to institute regular fora on the disease.

He commended the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua for its pioneering role in the fight against the disease by establishing the centre as a symbol for "love, care and support for PLWHAs" in the municipality. A Christmas party for PLWHAs was later held to climax the function.