More than 50 percent of the over four thousand Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) are not undergoing treatment while above 40 percent of those under treatment at centres like the Upper West Regional Hospital have been ‘lost to follow-up’.
This according to the Ghana Aids Commission (GAC) means such people for a number of reasons have refused to visit the Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) Centres for a period longer than three months.
The Upper West Regional Technical Coordinator for the GAC, Dramani Yakubu speaking to GBC’s Mark Smith at Wa expressed worry about the current trend. He said the disruption of treatment for a long period might cause a patient’s improving health to deteriorate or even lead to death; a common occurrence for patients who have been ‘lost to follow up’.
“I have been doing some analysis at the [Upper West] Regional Hospital about what we call ‘loss to follow up’. These people have been seen a couple a times and they disappeared and the figure is staggering. It is over 40 percent. They [PLHIV] have not come back [to the hospital], all efforts to trace them have proved futile,” Mr Yakubu explained.
The 2019 national estimates of PLHIV was drawn from 4 primary sources. They are the 2018 HIV Sentinel Survey (HSS), National Population database, data from the ART centers and the Geographical Epidemiological Survey.
This is the first time the estimates have been provided all the 16 regions in Ghana.
The 2019 national estimates of PLHIV indicate a national HIV prevalence of 1.69 with that of the Upper West Region being 0.83.
This makes the Upper West Region among the regions with the lowest HIV prevalence placing 11 out of 16.
The Upper West Regional Technical Coordinator for the GAC, Dramani Yakubu disclosed that the region had 248 new infections.
He added that a total of 4,166 are currently living with HIV in the region while “those on treatment currently are 1,746 which gives a treatment coverage of 41.9 percent”.
He said stigma is still a major cause for people shying away from knowing their status. “People have HIV but they do not know their status so how do they even access treatment. Those who know their status but do not go for treatment it is because of stigma,” he added.
He stressed that the treatment “is free but because they are afraid, they do not want people to know they are [HIV] positive.”
Mr. Yakubu was unhappy about what he termed as ‘self-transfer’ of patients. He explained that when that happens, it disrupts the data collection process of the GAC saying “because they [PLHIV] are known in certain areas, they do not want to visit these centres and so the transfer themselves. We do not recommend that because it messes up our data.”
He advised patients to “speak to the officer in charge [of the ART Centre], they will transfer you [PLHIV] to the location of your choice. In that case, the data would show that this person has transferred from one place to another and would not be recorded as a new infection”.
“Over 4 thousand people living with HIV in a small place like the Upper West Region is staggering. Imagine that every year for the next 10 years the region records over 200 new infections” he exclaimed.
Mr. Yakubu explained that although the current position of the Upper West Region in terms of HIV prevalence is comforting, “there is still a cause for concern”.
He observed that “HIV as a communal disease means that the entire community is at risk when there is even a single PLHIV, especially, when many people do not know their status”.
He said the Commission would continue to sensitize residents on the need to know their status.
Story filed by Mark Smith