Many point to the entire continent of Africa as an example of devastatingly high rates of HIV transmission. But Ghana has been able to break from its neighbors, becoming the only African country to drastically reduce the rate of infection.
In June, Ghana's vice president, John Dramani Mahama, visited the U.S. for a United Nations assembly called the High-Level Meeting on AIDS, in which he boasted that his country's prevalence rate has been slashed in half in the last decade. In 2001, 4% of Ghana residents had HIV. As of 2009, about 2.1% had the virus.
The decade of effort to lower those HIV rates began with a national strategy plan and the establishment of the Ghana AIDS Commission. After a massive public education campaign and collaborations with community-based organizations, the country is now looking to eradicate all mother-to-child transmissions of the virus. The government has also set its sites on a lofty goal: ending stigma against people with HIV.
'There existed a misunderstanding of what the disease was about, and so people were afraid to eat from the same plate with an HIV infected person because they thought they could get infected [by] sharing things together,' he told National Public Radio. . 'You know, and [educational initiatives] dispelled a lot of the misunderstanding of the sickness and we are encouraging'counseling and testing, you know, so, that people can go and test and know what their status is.'
Another key to reducing HIV rates, Mahama says, is the important task of nation building. By the 1990s, many African countries were left in shambles due to colonization, which had lead to famine, disease, and lack of education. Since then, countries like Ghana have worked to redevelop infrastructure, end military dictatorships, encourage media freedom, and adopt more environmentally-friendly practices.
As part of the major United Nations meeting on HIV, Ghana and 21 other nations like C'te d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and, South Africa, signed a far-reaching 105-point joint action plan aimed at eradicating the virus. The countries agreed that the future fight against HIV will largely focus on women, particularly mothers who are HIV-positive. The declaration emphasizes ensuring that women's rights are respected so that women, families, and communities are empowered to focus on their own health issues. Efforts are also planned to increase the focus on maternal health, as well as the health of newborns and small children.
This new joint action plan came with some U.S. support: millions of dollars in funding from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chevron, and Johnson & Johnson. The companies together pledged an additional $75 million on top of the approximately $300 million that these nations receive from the U.S. from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.