At least 669 persons have died from HIV/AIDS with 698 new infections recorded in the Upper East Region, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) has announced.
A report compiled in 2015 and cited this month by the Upper East Regional Health Directorate has also revealed that 6,397 people are living with the disease with 3,886 persons- only about a half of the infected numbers- said to be on antiretroviral therapy.
The disturbing developments come amid claims by the directorate that the HIV prevalence rate has dropped in the region with antiretroviral treatment clinics established in all thirteen municipalities and districts.
“We are the only region in Ghana that has been able to attain hundred percent district antiretroviral treatment clinic establishment coverage by increasing the number of antiretroviral clinics from 9 to 16 since 2014. Every district now can provide HIV care, treatment and support without referring to any other district as it used to be few years ago,” the regional director of health, Dr. Kofi Issah, stated at the regional commemoration of the World AIDS Day at Navrongo, a town in the western part of the region.
“Our region has continued to register a consistent decline in HIV prevalence rate from 2.1% in 2012 to 1.5% in 2015. The proportion of HIV-positive pregnant women put on antiretroviral treatment increased from 35.1% in 2013 to 94.9% in 2015. There has been reduction in HIV infection vertical transmission among babies from 7.3% in 2012 to 5.7% in 2015,” he added.
Navrongo rocked by HIV upsurge
Navrongo, capital of the Kassena-Nankana Municipality, has been reported as showing what the regional health directorate describes as a “consistent increase” in HIV prevalence rate since 2013.
The worrying trend prompted authorities to hold this year’s observance of the World AIDS Day in that busy capital with several market women and students from basic and senior high schools involved in a road march that preceded a durbar at the COS Park.
“Despite the positive consistent reduction in HIV prevalence our region has recorded over the past three years, there is a cause to worry as the situation is on the reverse in Navrongo where records show a consistent increase in prevalence rate in the past three years- 1.2% in 2013, 1.6% in 2014 and 1.8% in 2015,” Dr. Issah disclosed at the grass less park.
For a capital scourged by the draining virus on a troubling scale and playing a regional host for the World AIDS Day celebration, the organisers of the event did not lose their footing about what to do on that rare occasion. The Ghana AIDS Commission pitched tents on the verge of the durbar ground with a solemn call for voluntary HIV testing, breast cancer screening and blood pressure measurement. And scores, in rapid but cautious response, took turns in a queue to be examined.
Babies at risk of HIV as region mourns shortage of midwives
The regional health directorate also painted the picture of a region where a chronic shortage of midwives, whose role in preventing the transmission of the virus from mothers to babies has been crucial, could put newborns at the risk of sharing the viral loads their infected mothers carry.
“The region is faced with limited midwives who play [a] pivotal role in the comprehensive prevention from mother to child transmission and general HIV testing intervention services. This situation has the tendency to compromise the delivery of quality services since the limited midwives are overwhelmed with work as they run both static and outreach services. Due to dwindling financial support, our quest to build the staff capacity to offer the service is affected,” Dr. Issah pointed out.
He added: “The number of midwives and community health nurses trained on comprehensive HIV testing services is far below the target of at least 2 per facility. Stigma and discrimination exhibited towards people living with HIV from the society, poor family support for affected persons and lack of NGOs and philanthropists in the region to support in the HIV fight are also a cause for worry. Coupled with this is transportation constraint. Motorbikes and cars to facilitate outreach services and antiretroviral delivery to lower-level facilities are also not readily available- which has become a major bottleneck in all service delivery facilities.”
Sanctions for mockers of people living with AIDS
It was also announced at the durbar that those who inflicted any form of stigma or discrimination on people living with HIV/AIDS would not go unpunished by the law from the beginning of 2017.
The HIV-related sanctions, according to the Upper East Regional Technical Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Commission, Dr. Gifty Apiung Aninanya, are backed by a new Act.
“We are entering the year 2017 with a new Act for the Ghana AIDS Commission. Some of the striking aspects of the new Ghana AIDS Commission Act are the provision it makes for sanctions against people who stigmatise and discriminate against persons who live with HIV, the need to address the human rights needs of people living with HIV and other vulnerable populations.
“The Act also makes room for a less [manageable] Commission- which in my view will ensure efficiency and cost-effective administration of the Commission. It is my fervent hope that we all will support the implementation of the new Act when it comes into force,” Dr. Aninanya said.