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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 11:52 GMT
Ghana election diary: The Aids stigma
The BBC's Kwaku Sakyi-Addo is keeping a diary as Ghana prepares for presidential polls on 7 December. Here he reflects on the high unemployment rate among HIV/Aids sufferers

Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, BBC correspondent in Accra
Kwaku is on the campaign trail for the BBC

I am back in the sunshine after four days in the London chill. And on Tuesday I went to visit people living with HIV at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.

They have formed a group called Wisdom Association, with 450 members and a seat on the Ghana National Aids Commission.

But they are feeling pretty frustrated right now because none of the presidential candidates have seriously addressed HIV.

Most of them have lost their jobs because of discrimination.

They appreciate the supply of anti-retroviral drugs at the equivalent of $5 per month, but popping pills isn't enough.

They have to eat. They have kids to care for. They have bills to pay, just like everyone else.

But that is impossible unless they can work. And that is difficult with the stigma attached to being HIV positive.

I wish the candidates would tell employers to give us jobs because we're not dead, and we won't be dead for a long time.
Perpetua, HIV positive
The HIV prevalence rate is not diminishing. It has risen from about 2.6% to 3.6% in four years.

That means about four out of 100 people are infected, up from approximately three at the last election.

Compared to South Africa with about 25 per cent, or Swaziland and Botswana with around 36 per cent, Ghana's prevalence rate may not sound like a lot.

But once upon a time, none of those countries had any HIV cases at all.

Former hotel receptionist, Pepertua, not her real name, told me she had had the virus for five years.

She said she didn't believe when she was voting four years ago that she would live to see another election day.

"Now I know that being HIV positive isn't a death sentence," she said.

"I wish the candidates would tell employers to give us jobs because we're not dead, and we won't be dead for a long time."

Anti-Aids sign in Ghana
Social stigma makes people afraid to go for tests
Mohammed added: "And everybody should go and have an HIV test before they treat us like second class citizens."

He seemed very angry over his condition.

"When I make clothes people don't want to buy them, because they think I might infect them," chipped in Ivy, a dressmaker who has now fallen on hard times.

Now, two things: first, there should be a counselling and testing facility at every polling station so that we can have voluntary testing after voting.

No single event attracts nearly the entire adult population to village and town squares around the country on a single day the way elections do.

Secondly, presidential and parliamentary candidates should lead the way, although they should not be compelled to disclose their status.

HIV is a threat to our continent. Those who want to lead us must not sidestep this scourge.

They must show leadership in practice by leading the way in taking the test.

We have heard enough big talk from big men at big workshops in big hotels!




SEE ALSO:
Ghana's grudge match
28 Sep 04 |  Africa
Taking the pulse of Ghana
18 Oct 04 |  Africa
Country profile: Ghana
17 Jul 04 |  Country profiles


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