Professor Kwasi Torpey, the Dean, School of Public Health, University of Ghana, has called for the activation of a national HIV and AIDS Fund to support HIV response in the country.
He said this would be a life-saving intervention to increase the country’s domestic contribution to HIV prevention and management as it provided services to Ghanaians and assurance of commitment to the national response.
Prof Torpey made the call at a public lecture, as part of activities to commemorate the Ghana AIDS Commission’s 20th anniversary and World AIDS Day celebration, in Accra.
The lecture, organised by the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), was on the theme, “20 Years of a Multi-Sectoral HIV Response: Accelerating Progress to End AIDS”.
It focused on the GAC journey in the national response and interventions which has made some gains thus far.
He said the approval and operationalisation of the National HIV/AIDS fund would however, be a step in the right direction in the fight against the disease as the country continued to record new HIV infections.
A 2022 report by the GAC indicates Ghana had an estimated 345,599 persons living with HIV/AIDS, out of which 68 per cent were female, he stated.
Prof Torpey explained that in terms of the 95-95-95, United Nations target, the country had made some progress by ensuring that 71 per cent of people living with HIV knew their status.
Out of those who know their status, 99 per cent of them were on antiretroviral therapy, out of which 79 per cent are virologically suppressed, he stated.
“What this data also means is that 29 per cent of persons who are living with HIV do not know their status and are not on treatment.
“With a significant proportion of Persons living with HIV (PLHIV), not virally suppressed, we are likely to have ongoing transmissions until we try to reduce new infections and identify undiagnosed new infections,” he said.
“It is estimated that a total of 16,938 new HIV infections were recorded in 2021, consisting of 11,375 (67 per cent) being female and 1,811 new HIV infections occurring among the 10-19 age group, with 92 per cent infection rate also among females within that same age bracket.”
HIV sentinel surveillance reports among young pregnant women also show a decline with prevalence among 15-19year at 0.7 per cent and 1.3 per cent in 15-24yrs.
Prof Torpey however said, the overall reduction in new infections from approximately 23,000 in 2018 to 17,000 in 2021 was inadequate for the country to attain epidemic control in the next decade.
We need to work towards the accelerated reduction of new infections collectively and rapidly through the expansion and prevention services for general and key populations. It is no longer a choice of treatment against prevention but deploying effective interventions within the prevention-treatment continuum.
He said the future of HIV response was bright but called for new prevention technologies, long lasting treatment, evidence-based strategies to prevent mother to child transmission and expansion of HIV testing.
The Dean of SPH said there was also the need for enhanced strategy to reduce stigma and discrimination in communities and facilities and a programme that was inclusive for general, key and priority populations.
“Just like we saw in COVID-19, every single individual remains at risk if we do not implement a programme that is inclusive,” he added.
Dr Henry Nagai, the Chief of Party, United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Strengthening the Care Continuum Project, during a panel discussion, called for a comprehensive education on HIV to reduce new infections and the need to empower everyone to have access to the HIV self-test kits.
Reverend Dr Fred Deegbe, Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, also advised that the youth should be given proper sex education to protect them.
Sheikh Armeyawo Shaibu, Spokesperson of the National Chief Imam, said risk perception was another tool driving increase in new HIV infections and asked that the advocacy approach about the previous strategy be changed to have the required impact.