Afiba was tested in 1998 after they announced at the International AIDS Conference in Vancouver that combination therapy was effective. She supposes she needed to know that there was some treatment that would work first before she wanted to know. Back then, she was told that HIV might take five or 10 years off her life. Now, her life expectancy is the same and they call it “life altering” not “life limiting”. Afiba said she did not take it very well and for a while she stopped having sex and felt dirty, as she experienced a lot of grieving, lost a lot of friends and lovers, which was not easy. “I can’t say I was delighted when I was diagnosed, but I wasn’t totally freaked out” she confides. It all started when postmortem examinations showed that she had something compromising her immune system. That something was HIV. Although she said her first thought was to keep her diagnosis a secret, she discovered there were many women Sebastian had slept with before her who also needed to know their status. So said Afiba, she decided to be as open as she could, but “it was hard and though. Many women he had slept with would hardly believe Sebastian had HIV and some of them would even blame me”. “I did not disclose my status to anybody including my mother one day when I mustard courage and inform a nurse and in fact this was the beginning of my stigma and predicament”. Clinic Five In the Ghanaian society, they have come up with a name for it: “deadly HIV disease” “HIV patients”, and “HIV positives”, and indeed a name which conjures up an image in people’s minds on the infection. Realizing the efficacy of the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART), Afiba said she was introduced and placed on an ART at the “Clinic Five”. Clinic Five is a “special unit” at the Brong-Ahafo Regional Hospital in Sunyani of which people living with HIV go for ART services. The facility offers free Counseling and Testing of HIV and AIDS to interested people in the Sunyani Municipality and the region who desire to know their status. According to Afiba, things were going normal when she started going for the free ART services, and her immune system was gradually building up. To her dismay, her HIV status has spread like wildfire after months she was placed on the ART as colleagues and even relations closer to her begin to point fingers at her. Afiba said she was in a state of dilemma and many thoughts were going through her mind. Thoughts of who was exactly behind the disclosure of her HIV status. Unending stigma at Clinic five Even a child at the regional hospital habour the perception that the moment a patient is referred to clinic five, it means he or she is diagnosed with, or suspected of HIV and AIDS. Initially, the situation was quite different until other patients who have chronic diseases – hypertension, diabetes and others, were also introduced to the Clinic Five for treatment. Investigations reveal that the decision taken by the hospital officials to make other patients to share the clinic with people living with HIV was minimize stigmatization, but it rather ended up in worsening the stigma situation. A sign post mounted in front of the Clinic Five provides information on services rendered at the clinic five ad that alone place societal stigma on people living with HIV who go for ART services. Various categories of chronic diseases including HIV have been listed on the sign post with days and period patients go for medication assigned to them. So when you sight a relative or friend at Clinic Five on Wednesdays, what goes through your mind is whether the person is going for HIV counseling and testing or accessing ART services. Not knowing, some friends and relations of Afiba spied and followed her secretly to the Clinic Five whenever she left house on Wednesdays to go for ART services. Their action, according to Afiba was to confirm whether she truly has HIV as speculated in the nieghbourhood. In fact when Afiba narrated her ordeals, I shared her sorrows and I decided in mind to find out the truth. My experience started when I conducted HIV test at the Clinic Five. Though I was confirmed negative, I decided to visit the clinic every Wednesday with the pretext of going for ART services. Officially, I introduced myself to one of the nurses on duty and in fact she gave me the human-face and the support to carry out with my investigations. For some weeks, I started visiting Clinic Five, I could realized people in my neighbourhood started behaving odd towards me and many of those I interacted regularly with started avoiding me. I informed my wife when I started this mission, so she was already aware of what I was trying to unravel and to my shock, she reveal to me one night that people in the neigbourhood had secretly inform her that I am “HIV positive”. Supposedly my HIV positive status had spread like wildfire in the neighbourhood and that was when I begin to feel the psychological and emotional trauma and what stigmatization and discrimination could have on people living with HIV in the Ghanaian society. Consequences of Stigma For fear of stigma, sexually active people are not going for the free HIV/AIDS voluntary counseling and testing to ascertain their status, to prevent the spread of the virus. According to Mr Ahmed Ibrahim Bimbilla, the Brong-Ahafo Technical Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), despite the Anti Retroviral Therapy, HIV is still prevalent in the region with new infections spreading fast in rural than urban area. Speaking at a workshop for selected Health Journalists on HIV Reporting at Abesim, near Sunyani, Mr Bimbilla said it required concerted efforts to address challenges of stigma and discrimination because the HIV/AIDS situation in Bono, Bono East and Ahafo Regions was worrying. About 15 journalists attended the workshop, which was organised by the African Centre for Development Reporting, a Non-governmental Organisation, and sponsored by the United States Embassy in Accra. Recommendation A key trending and challenging issue contributing the spread of HIV is the growing population of female sex workers in three regions thus the need intensified campaign on safe sex and HIV and AIDS. According to experts, this is because people in rural areas mostly had unprotected sex - they do not use condoms and other contraceptives. Though the regions saw a sharp decline in HIV prevalence in 2017 of 2.0 from 2.7 in 2016, Mr Bimbilla said HIV/AIDS was fast spreading in the Sunyani, Wenchi and Kintampo municipalities. Ms Golda Asante, a Consultant on HIV/AIDS issues, said HIV remained a national development priority. She said Ghana had had several frameworks and strategic plans and interventions, which guided the nation in responding to HIV/AIDS. Ms Asante said currently the national population of HIV/AIDS was estimated at 316,613 people comprising 289,883 adults and 26,730 children. Current figures on new infections are estimated at 17,649 comprising 15,085 adults and 2,564 children.
Source: By K Peprah