Though the country has gone far with issues of HIV/TB having medications to reduce viral loads, there is still a subtle means of stigma and discrimination in our communities when it comes to persons living with HIV/TB. The managers of the HIV/TB control program in Ghana say there is still more to be done to have zero stigma and discrimination against people with these diseases in order to get others to come out to be tested and get treatment.
The 2019 Global Fund Baseline assessment report on Ghana, on Scaling up Programs to remove human rights-related barriers to HIV /TB Services, indicates a continued stigma and discrimination generally surrounding HIV, which is also grounded in limited understanding and as well as misconceptions about the disease. In 2016, Ghana’s parliament passed the Ghana AIDS Commission Act (GAC) (Act 938) which contained important provisions for promoting and protecting the rights of people living with HIV as well as those suspected of having HIV.
The Ghana AIDS Commission’s act includes specific provisions on the rights to health, education, employment, privacy, and confidentiality. It also stipulates penalties for individuals who discriminate against or violate the rights of people with HIV. Mr. Reymond Aholu now a model of Hope discovered his HIV status after his wife delivered their third child. However, none of his three children has HIV. He has been living with HIV for the past 19 years and is now a model of hope.
Mr Aholu had to resign from his work due to stigma and discrimination when colleagues and friends got to know he had HIV.
Stigmatisation and discrimination continue to be a challenge for most people persons living with HIV/TB and this discourages them from disclosing their identity. The Program Manager for the National AIDS/STI Control Program at the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, says there are enough data and science to show how far HIV has come in Ghana and the world over but there must be more continuous efforts towards zero stigma and discrimination for HIV/TB.
While the Stigma may result from being seen at health facilities, or patients may even experience discrimination experience within health facilities, and when using medical utilizing of services, this may be a major barrier to human rights and access to health services. A national study of people living with HIV who use health facilities found that approximately 25% had experienced discrimination in HIV services in one way or the other.
In the past, only a few health facilities had ART centres with treatment for people living with HIV, but now all government health facilities in Ghana can offer these, along with including some private health facilities also have. At the Police headquarters which is one of the ART centres, the facility centre records over a thousand persons living with HIV. They meet twice a week for their anti-retroviral medications and once a month for psychosocial talks and other educational programs. The participants serve as inspiration and models of hope for each other.
In Ghana, there have been some multi-sectoral and integrated programs that have focused on the need for key populations to access HIV related services and care, the most recent goal has been the United Nation’s 90-90-90 target, which Ghana could not achieve as a result of some setbacks and have therefore adopted the new 95-95-95 target.
Mistreating people living with HIV/TB is a crime, irrespective of the victim’s sexuality. Increasing education, tolerance, understanding, and respect for everyone’s human rights is key. Many are therefore calling for the reawakening of HIV/TB campaigns to educate and reduce stigma and discrimination for persons living with HIV/TB.