Covid-19, HIV and AIDS school alert programmes to be revived

Ghana AIDS Commission
Ghana AIDS Commission

The Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) is to revive the school alert programmes which involves comprehensive sexual reproductive health education in schools in the Eastern Region to sensitised school children on the threats of HIV.

Restrictions and school breaks in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic led to many girls getting pregnant implying that they indulged in risky sex behaviours without using any form of protection exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.

Mr Ebenezer Abrokwah, Acting Eastern Region Technical Coordinator of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) said the covid-19 restrictions slowed down activities of the HIV campaign and sensitisation in schools, and needed to revive it to prevent infections.

Mr Abrokwah who was speaking with the Ghana News Agency under a covid-19 media project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in partnership with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) said the move was to step up HIV campaign to reduce the misconceptions about HIV.

Apart from the schools alert programmes, he indicated that the campaign by the District Implementation Committees (DICs) and other communities are using platforms such as the churches and the community information centres to reach out to people on the key messages of HIV to create the needed awareness for to curb infection.

The Eastern Region recorded over 10,000 teenage pregnancies in the year 2020 and reports indicate that from January-June 2021 over 1,000 teenage pregnancies had already been recorded.

This, according to the Acting Technical Coordinator raised concern for HIV infections in the region adding that, “all these teenagers getting pregnant confirms our fears that people are indulging in risky sexual behaviours without any form of protection leading to pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases which has not been established yet”.

He explained that the schools’ campaign was yielding positive results as they had the opportunity to answer questions, which bothered the young ones about sexual health education and HIV.

That he said would go a long way to prevent risky sexual behaviours among the youth especially those in schools.

The campaign also provided the opportunity to test as many people as possible and quickly put them on the ART to protect them from illness and opportunistic infections as well as counsel them with regards to their sexual behaviours to prevent infecting others.

With COVID-19 and it’s restrictions, all these activities went down, giving people the false sense of security that HIV was no longer a threat, yet, the covid-19 restrictions had affected many people economically, so, trading sex for money as a result of vulnerabilities is on the rise.

Currently, the Eastern Region has a prevalence of 2.7 showing that over 31,758 of the population between the ages of (15-49) years averagely were HIV positive, with Lower Manya Krobo, Upper-Manya Krobo, Yilo Krobo and Asuogyaman districts leading the regional chart high prevalences.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected those living with HIV in Africa?

There is evidence that the AIDS-related death toll could double in sub-Saharan Africa from 2020 to 2021 if HIV services are severely disrupted as a result of Covid-19. This would mean an additional 500,000 AIDS-related deaths.

But not only that, new infections among children through mother-to-child transmission could increase by even more than 100 per cent in some countries in Africa. We could see the progress made in fighting AIDS reversed by 10 years. And that’s dangerous.

“It’s therefore important to put the message out there that we should keep up the two struggles, on HIV and COVID-19. Do not drop one for the other”, Mr Abrokwah noted .

COVID-19 and people living with HIV

According to the Executive Director of the UNAIDS, Ms Winnie Byanyima, “COVID-19 is a serious disease and all people living with HIV should take all recommended preventive measures to minimize exposure to, and prevent infection by, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

She explained that as in the general population, older people living with HIV or people living with HIV with heart or lung problems may be at a higher risk of becoming infected with the virus and of suffering more serious symptoms.

“ All people living with HIV should reach out to their healthcare providers to ensure that they have adequate stocks of essential medicines,’ she cautioned.

She said despite the scale-up of HIV treatment in recent years, 15 million people living with HIV do not have access to antiretroviral therapy, which may compromise their immune systems.

“We will actively learn more about how HIV and COVID-19 together impact on people living with HIV from countries and communities responding to both epidemics. Lessons in rolling out innovations or adapting service delivery to minimize the impact on people living with HIV will be shared and replicated as they become available.

“Until more is known, people living with HIV—especially those with advanced or poorly controlled HIV disease—should be cautious and pay attention to the prevention measures and recommendations. It is also important that people living with HIV have multimonth refills of their HIV medicines”, she added.

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