Despite the belief that stigmatisation against people living with HIV/AIDS has declined among the populace, health experts have bemoaned that the phenomenon is now shifting toward caregivers, from their colleagues at work.
The Medical Superintendent of the South Suntreso Government Hospital, Dr. Thomas Agyarko Poku, said the choice of words ‘unconsciously’ sometimes used by some health workers, in the line of duty with colleagues who are caregivers of HIV/AIDS patients, is often inappropriate.
This latest trend, which he attributed to the lack of training of healthcare professionals on how to behave toward people living with HIV/AIDS, shows that stigmatisation is rising within healthcare facilities across the country.
He noted that many of the nurses who hitherto were given some training have either moved out of the system or to other facilities.
He therefore wishes that healthcare professionals be taken through the necessary training at school, prior to their postings to healthcare facilities.
Dr. Agyarko Poku also asked that healthcare facilities, and their personnel, be given the needed support in order to help ensure prevention of stigmatisation.
He made these pronouncements at an ‘Anti-stigma and Discrimination Campaign’ organised by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), at the South Suntreso Government Hospital.
This revelation also comes on the heels of the latest findings that there is a high level of stigma especially among senior-level clinicians, according to a ‘Stigma and Discrimination’ survey conducted across some selected healthcare facilities across the country.
The exercise is said to have been undertaken in three phases – baseline assessment, intervention, and end-line.
The ceremony at the South Suntreso Government Hospital, which brought together healthcare professionals, the media and HIV/AIDS ambassadors, was explained as being part of activities to round-off PEPFAR’s 15th Anniversary globally, and 10th in Ghana.
Since its inception in 2003, the US government through PEPFAR has saved millions of lives and also transformed the global HIV/AIDS response.
The ‘Anti-stigma and Discrimination’ campaign is being done in four regions of the country including Ashanti, Western, Volta and Greater Accra.
It is aimed at showing love to persons living with HIV, and letting people understand that the stigma is more dangerous.
PEPFAR Media Specialist, Dzid Enyonam Kwame said: “If you discriminate against persons who live with the disease, they will not be willing to disclose their status”.
The rippling effect, she noted, is that they cannot be put on treatment. “Subsequently, they will keep infecting others – and Ghana as a nation will not achieve the Fastrack UNAIDS goal of 90-90-90 within the stipulated time-frame”.
She emphasized: “If we discriminate against PLHIVs, we stand a greater risk and will not be able to achieve an AIDS-free generation”.
Dzid Enyonam Kwame noted that caregivers are the first point of contact of PLHIVs, and what they do helps to sustain their lives. And so, while appreciating their work, she also urged them to resist the tendency of discriminating against PLHIVs.
The Ashanti Regional Technical Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Commission, Olivia Graham, also corroborated that there has been ample evidence to suggest that stigmatisation exists at healthcare facilities – a situation that she said sometimes discourage PLHIVs from seeking help.
She said preventing stigmatisation at the healthcare centres is also critical to reducing spread of the disease.
However, she added that discriminating against PLHIVs to some extent is punishable by law – and therefore urged caregivers and other healthcare workers to endeavour to do things in the right way, so as to avoid being subjected to court issues.
The Programme Management Specialist of USAID-PEPFAR, Nadia Tagoe, also encouraged caregivers continue engaging each other on the best ways to handle PLHIVs which will create a ‘safe space’ for them.
The new Press Attaché to the US Embassy in Accra, Naomi Mattos, was around with other staff of the Embassy to support the programme in Kumasi.