Ottawa –“Stigma is a major obstacle in Ghana to HIV-prevention, for access to appropriate treatment and to care,” says Dr. Martin Labba, the director of SFU’s school of communication and the project director. Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, and administered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the 6-year long project has directly informed approximately 104,000 people in Ghanaian communities about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Researchers from SFU along with Ghana’s University of Cape Coast (UCC), the University of Ghana and the University of Education, Winneba, created a curriculum to demystify the disease and address its prevention and treatment. This information is then disseminated in local communities via student teachers and community workers.
Explaining the approach, Albert Koomson, director, UCC Centre for Distance Education, notes that all trainee teachers at the participating universities are required to take the course which lasts one-semester and outlines how the virus is transmitted. “Students have learned that shaking hands, sharing food, hugging or being in proximity to a person living with HIV or AIDS doesn’t pass on the disease,” says Mr. Koomson.
Researchers conducted interviews in Ghana as part of the curriculum development and found that misinformation, with its accompanying stigma, lead to such inhumane treatment as firing people from their jobs or evicting them from rental homes on the basis of their HIV-positive status.
The project ends this year and over its duration has successfully graduated a critical mass of school teachers, youth workers, students, parents and teenagers who have a more comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDS. This cohort of thousands of informed people has collectively influenced those around them and brought about a huge reversal in trends.
Now, for many, the disease is no longer associated with negative judgements on a person’s morality or even their worth as a human being. A key element of the teachers’ training is a “portfolio” study whereby the student teachers visit two households of at least four individuals to survey their HIV/AIDS knowledge base.
Students return twice more to share correct information and ensure householders have a clear understanding of the disease. In Ghana, teachers, including trainee teachers, receive special respect among community members. They are well-received and viewed as authoritative sources of knowledge.
According to Mr. Koomson, UCC efforts alone have reached almost 60,000 people directly, but the combined efforts of the three institutions have reached over 100,000 people. “The results were so impressive that the Ghana AIDS Commission now works hand in hand with us at the universities as they are very impressed by our reach,” says Mr. Koomson. Members of the project’s steering committee meet monthly with representatives from the Commission and the Ghanaian Ministry of Health.
The Ghana AIDS Commission reported a decline in the country’s prevalence rate from 3.2 percent in 2003 to 1.9 percent in 2009. This translates into around 300,000 HIV-infected people, a relatively low prevalence rate. However, this does not mean efforts should be relaxed.
“With this low rate, it is very easy for people to get into complacency mode, thinking that it’s not a major issue,” says Professor Sakyi Amoa, the Commission’s director. “ …to succeed we must intensify education and awareness. That tells you the important role of education in the whole national response.”
As World AIDS Day approaches on December 1st, the project responds directly to this year’s theme of universal access and human rights.
For more information:
Project Director, Simon Fraser University:
Dr. Martin Labba, Director, School of Communications
Tel.: (778) 782-5772; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Project Director, University of Cape Coast:
Dr. Albert Koomson, Director, Centre for Distance Education
Tel.: (233) 042 36946 OR (233) 042 36947 OR (233) 042 35203
Note: Time difference between Ottawa, Ontario and Ghana +5:0 hrs;