As part of interventions to support HIV and AIDS prevention globally, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has in the last 17 years, dedicated $85 billion in this direction.
This investment, according to the Country Director for the Centre for Disease Control, Ghana (CDC-Ghana) and PEPFAR Co-ordinator, Dr. Michael Melchior, remains one of the biggest commitments that any country, has contributed to the fight against a single infection in the world.
Dr. Melchior revealed this on Tuesday, at the opening of a 7-week long virtual media training by PEPFAR, targeted at equipping journalists across the country, with the requisite knowledge and skills on evidence-based, unbiased reporting on HIV and AIDS as well the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Through the generosity of the American people, PEPFAR has invested more than $85 billion over the past 17 years. This is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history, saving over 18 million lives, preventing millions of HIV infections, and accelerating progress toward controlling the epidemic in more than 50 countries.”
He also underscored the critical role, the media plays in achieving the UNAIDS strategic aims of “Test and Treat”, “Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U)”, “95-95-95 by 2030”, and anti-stigmatization campaigns respectively.
This 95-95-95 by 2030 means, 95 per cent of people living with HIV to know their HIV status; 95 per cent of people who know their status to be on treatment and 95 per cent of people on treatment to have suppressed viral loads.
Statistics indicate that 1,791 new positives were recorded from October 2019 to March 2020 and 73 per cent of those who on treatment and received a viral load test, had been virally suppressed.
The CDC Ghana Director recounted that “multiple studies have shown that if HIV is suppressed and undetectable, then it cannot be transmitted to others. These findings led to a global campaign known as U=U, or Undetectable=Untransmittable. One of the keys to have a suppressed or undetectable viral load, is adherence to treatment. And one of the main barriers to adherence to treatment, or even getting tested, is stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV. We are also seeing significant stigma and discrimination affecting those who are positive or recovered from COVID-19.”
Dr. Melchior further paid tribute to the persistent efforts and collaboration exhibited by the Ghana AIDS Commission, National AIDS Program, John Snow Incorporated, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to reach epidemic control.
PEPFAR in October 2018, established the West Africa Regional platform, with Ghana designated as the hub. The region includes Burkina Faso, Togo, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
On her part, the Vice President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Mrs. Linda Asante-Agyei charged the media to avoid unethical journalism and apply professional, innovative ways that can help curb these health challenges.
She mentioned “the current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain groups and our persons living with HIV are having hard times during this period and they need our utmost attention to address their needs.”
“Rumuor and misinformation feeds stigma and undermines any rights-based public health response. Both the HIV and the COVID-19 responses have been set back by misinformation, sometimes even generated by the very individuals we should be looking to for leadership and guidance.” Language is a powerful tool to create stigma and also to stand against it”, Mrs. Asante-Agyei intimated.
The PEPFAR media training is in partnership with Media HealthLink, the African Centre for Development Reporting and support from the US Embassy, Ghana.