How THP Celebrated World AIDS Day 2011

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December 1, 2011 was World AIDS Day – a day when women, men and children of all walks around the world stand together to declare their ongoing commitment to ending the epidemic that is HIV/AIDS. The theme of World AIDS Day 2011 was an ambitions hard-line message:  “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.”

A determined, mass commitment to this message has begun to pay off. Across the globe regular antiretroviral therapies (ART), the use of medications to combat HIV, are proving more effective than ever at extending lives and preventing new infections. Though due in part to increased availability to and quality of medication, it has been the dissemination of information and the breakdown of social stigmas that have made some of the biggest differences in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

In its latest World AIDS Day report How to get to zero: Faster. Smarter. Better. UNAIDS called 2011 a “game-changing year” with “unprecedented progress in science, political leadership and results.” AIDS-related deaths have dropped consistently since 2005 and now fallen to the lowest levels on record. New infection rates are also at a record low and continue to decline due in large part to sexual education initiatives among adults and new WHO-suggested practices resulting in an ever-increasing number of HIV-free newborns. The new-infection rate is now an astounding 21 percent below rates during the peak of the epidemic in 1997. And, as of this last year, nearly 50 percent of all people eligible for ART are now accessing them – the highest percentage ever!

With nearly 70 percent of all people living with HIV residing in sub-Saharan Africa, our partners in Africa are some of the most at-risk communities in the world and taking an empowered personal interest in the continuation of these positive trends. In THP Program Countries, our partners were extremely vocal in their public support of resources for HIV-positive community members. Unwilling to accept old stigmas, they have joined together to raise awareness of the disease not only in their own communities, but among political and government leaders as well. 

Senegal

Our partners in Senegal embraced the “zero” message wholeheartedly in a march and subsequent rally with local leaders. Women and men from the Sam Contor Epicenter community gathered with homemade signs with messages like “ZERO AIDS-related deaths.”  See photos of the event and signs here.

Uganda

Members of Mbarara Epicenter participated in an event organized by the local district government called “Re-engaging leadership in effective HIV prevention.” The event was held in partnership with the Aids Support Organisation (TASO), and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including ICOBI, AIC and MBADINASO. Eleven women leaders from Mbarara Epicenter represented THP at the celebration, which included a quiz on HIV facts, educational songs about life with and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and dramatic role plays reenacting best practices to prevent the spread of the disease. The THP representatives participated in all events and were among the winners of the HIV quiz.

Ghana

In collaboration with the Kwahu West Municipal Assembly, the Municipal Directorate of Health and Partners for Africa Community Empowerment (PACE) a local NGO, THP-Ghana marked the day with a procession of more than 200 people through the streets of Nkawkaw, the capital of Kwahu West Municipalitym followed by a gathering to create public awareness about the significance of the day. Participants carried signs saying: "People with aids are just like you," "Avoid casual sex to prevent HIV &AIDS," "Know your status," "Get tested" and more. The Municipal Chief Executive and the Municipal Health Director joined the day’s events.

In her opening remarks, the Municipal Health Director, Ms. Julia Nimo, called for all Ghanaians to take part in fighting HIV/AIDS. Ms. Nimo urged participants to not wait for HIV to disable them before seeking treatment or medication but to get tested immediately at one of the municipality’s many health centers. She reminded participants that HIV/AIDS has no cure but can be managed with ART available at Holy Family Hospital and Atibie Government Hospital.  Ms. Nimo especially stressed that HIV/AIDS is not a curse as a result of misdeeds but rather it is just like any ailment such as malaria. She concluded her speech by educating the crowd on methods of HIV transmission. Specifically she addressed mother-to-child transmission and the work health authorities are doing to curb infection rates. Ms. Nimo appealed to the gathering to go for a test immediately after the program to know their status so as to make an informed decision.                           

Mr. Evans Osei Baah, HIV/AIDS Institutional Coordinator at Holy Family Hospital, then spoke to the crowd to discuss the misconception that many Ghanaians have in thinking that HIV is a distant concept. In the past four years HIV/AIDS cases recorded at Holy Family Hospital alone amount to 338 cases. He said the rate at which people are infected is frightening and suggested that people in the region are living recklessly without considering health risks. Mr. Osei concluded by addressing the youth directly and emphasizing the reality and deadliness of the disease.

Following the speeches, a short sketch was staged by a combined team of AIDS animators and Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) leaders from the three epicenters in the Kwahu West Municipality: Nkawanda , Nsuta-Aweregya and Odumase-Wawase. The sketch highlighted gender inequalities that make women and girls highly prone to HIV/AIDS infections. It addressed inequalities inherent in child labor, violence against women and girls, discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS, and knowing one’s HIV/AIDS status.

After the sketch a WEP animator, Juliana Kwaakyewa from the Nkawanda Epicenter discussed the various themes depicted in the play. She asked us to promote gender equity in the home, especially among children, so that it becomes the natural behavior in the community and allows women the opportunities that they have been denied for the past years.

Some of the audience was so swayed by the sketch that they appealed to the group to conduct similar educational sessions in their own institutions to promote gender equity and curb the spread of HIV. The Animators agreed that all requests would be honored.

The Municipal Chief Executive, the Honorable Alex Somuah Obeng, concluded the day’s events by reminding participants that it will take more than simply the Municipal Assembly or NGOs to stop HIV/AIDS. “It will take the collective effort of everybody to realize this dream.”

He went on to say that one of the root causes of HIV/ AIDS is the lack of parental guidance for children, resulting in uninformed youth and the perpetuation of HIV infections. He urged parents to take care of their children and refrain from using children as laborers. He also touched on the issue of teenage pregnancy, especially among those who have turned to prostitution – something still common in the municipality. He advised the students to stay in school and take their education seriously.

In his closing remarks, Hon. Mr. Obeng assured THP of his support. He asked the THP animators to inform him should they like to organize any educational sessions in the municipality so he may assist with any necessary arrangements.

Testing and counseling was carried out after the program as part of the “Know Your Status” campaign. A total of 61 people – 39 women and 22 men – were tested. Only one woman tested positive. Male condoms were distributed free of charge to the participants and the general public to help curb the spread of the disease in the municipality. A total of 470 male condoms were given out. The program was attended by 512 people – 300 women and 212 men.

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