HIV infection does not make patients less human, therefore, Ghanaians should stop discriminating and stigmatising them, Dr Kyeremeh Atuahene, Director General of Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), has advised.
According to him, HIV stigmatisation and discrimination was pervasive in the country, adding that such attitude has made people living with the virus hide their status and putting other people at risk.
Dr Atuahene said this in Accra yesterday during the commemoration of “Zero Discrimination Day” held on the theme, “Remove Laws that Harm, Create Laws that Empower.”
The day, which is observed annually on March 1, was instituted by UNAIDS in 2014 to promote equality and fairness before the law and also to create awareness and fight the systemic and cultural discrimination against People Living with HIV (PLHIV)
The Director General of GAC said studies conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service in 2014 revealed that 92 per cent of women and 85 per cent of men expressed unacceptable attitude towards persons living with HIV.
“Several studies conducted in Ghana on HIV-related stigma and discrimination showed that the experience of stigma and discrimination was a daily occurrence in homes, schools, churches, workplaces and communities,”
“These findings again have been confirmed by data from the discrimination reporting system of the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ)which showed that persons infected were at higher risk of HIV and continued to suffer various forms of discrimination, such as eviction from rented or family houses and denial of employment,” he said.
Dr Atuahene said other forms of discrimination included denial of maintenance of children, education, police assistance and non-payment of wages.
For him, some PLHIV were not allowed to use the same toilet, bathroom or kitchen used by landlord or co-tenants, “we are using this event to tell Ghanaians that these practices are in complete violation of people who are made to unjustifiably suffer these atrocities, any person who stigmatises or discriminates against PLHIV or affected persons causes an offence punishable by law.’
The UNAIDS Country Director, Angela Trenton-Mbonde, said there was the need for an urgent action to be taken against discriminatory laws.
She said discriminatory laws were laws that deny human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that those laws were expected to protect and not harm.
She said studies have proven that discrimination against people living with HIV hindered access to HIV services and impacted the quality of care for them.
Mrs Trenton-Mbonde reiterated that HIV was not a death sentence and that antiretroviral medicines were available to save lives when they are taken continuously.
She said viral suppression resulting from adherence to antiretroviral treatment prevents the transmittal of the virus from one person to another.
To end AIDS by 2030 and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the Country Director said it was critical to confront discrimination and tackle inequalities.
“Ending discrimination and changing laws is the responsibility of us all. Everyone can play a part in ending discrimination and can try to make a difference, in ways both big and small,” Mrs Trenton-Mbonde said.
BY AGNES OPOKU SARPONG