Since the launch of the global UNAIDS 90/90/90 Goal in 2014 to eradicate HIV, remarkable progress has been made. The Goal’s target is to have 90 percent of persons estimated to be living with HIV know their status; 90 percent of persons who know their HIV status access treatment; and, 90 percent of people on treatment will have suppressed viral load by 2020.
1st December, 2018 marks World AIDS Day. This year, the world wants to fast-track the attainment of the Goal by calling on everyone to get tested under the theme, ‘Know your status’. Ghana’s theme as adopted by the Ghana AIDS Commission, ‘’Test, Treat to Suppress and Stop New HIV Infections’’ complements the global theme.
Ghana’s theme for the celebration of the Day is appropriate as our National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan 2016-2020 boldly adopts the global 90/90/90 Goal. In this and preceding National Strategic Plans for HIV/AIDS, we have identified various interventions that target various categories of people to ensure a holistic response to the HIV situation in Ghana. A key strategy has been to remove stigma and discrimination which creates a barrier to accessing HIV related health care.
These strategies and interventions notwithstanding, persons identified within the National Strategic Plan as key and vulnerable population (including commercial sex workers and LGBTs) continue to experience stigma and discrimination related challenges. While it is instructive to note that the uptake of such HIV services by everyone is important, the Strategic Plan places an emphasis on key and vulnerable population because they are at a higher risk of the infection.in the absence of such intervention, socio-cultural factors are likely to prevent them from seeking necessary health care services, which will create a major blot on the attainment of national HIV goals.
Unfortunately, we continue to witness public rebuff and mistreatment of the key and vulnerable population which is further strengthened as a result of some rhetoric by influential persons, including State officials. Such rhetoric is counter-productive to government’s health agenda for this country. More importantly, such rhetoric is not justified because they eventually lead to creating hostile environment and denial of access and enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including health by the key and vulnerable population.
To achieve our audacious national goal under the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, all stakeholders, including the government must contribute to the anti-stigma campaign and not take away from it. The Ghana Police Service must be responsive to calls to protect key and vulnerable persons from abuse and violence.
Meanwhile, HIV prevalence among the youth is on the increase from 1.1 percent (2016) to 1.5 percent (2017). Irresponsible adults are violating the sexual right of children and the youth in Ghana. Stories of sexual abuse of students this year have shocked the conscience of many. We call on government to safeguard the best interest of children in this country by being more proactive in its response in such cases. We call on Government to not only condemn such acts but also ensure that such issues are properly and immediately addressed through the right channels. In that regard, we request that the Ghana Education Service halts the prioritisation of the Code of Professional Conduct for teachers over the Criminal Offences Act 1960 in such serious criminal cases. We also call on the Ghana Police Service to fully undertake its mandate of not only being responsive but also proactive, especially in cases involving children and other vulnerable persons. Investigations into criminal matters must at all times be led by the Police or other State security apparatus.
In addition, we demand that Government provides comprehensive response in such cases. Government must ensure immediate and adequate access to health care including Post Exposure Prophylaxis to prevent possible STI (including HIV) infection; and, provide psychosocial support for victims of sexual abuse to improve their mental health and promote victim cooperation during trail.
We call on the Ghana Police Service to create an easily accessible database of paedophiles in Ghana to enable parents make informed decisions before enrolling their children in school. The Ghana Education Service must also put in place, an effective reporting mechanism for students to report incidents of sexual or threats of sexual abuse. As we call for these measures to be implemented, we urge parents to immediately report sexual abuse against their children to the police, whether or not administrative processes are pending.
As we commemorate this Day, we make this collective call, encouraging all persons, including the key and vulnerable population to access a closest public hospital to get tested for HIV for free. We also encourage parents to get their wards tested, as we build momentum towards eradicating HIV in Ghana.
Human Rights Advocacy Centre
30th November, 2018